Farewell Esther, and Thanks


Esther P. Nowell On August 19, 2010, a crowd gathered at the First Parish Congregational Church in Wakefield, Massachusetts to say a final goodbye to a woman who spent decades looking out for the weakest of God’s creatures. Esther P. Nowell died August 8, 2010 at the age of 92. She was the founder, prime mover and force behind the Protection of Animals in Wakefield Society, better known as “PAWS,” a humane organization that now reaches far beyond Wakefield.

I’ll leave it to others to enumerate Esther’s countless accomplishments with PAWS and her work on behalf of animals. I can best illustrate it through my own personal experience.

I still have the cat that I adopted from PAWS ten years ago. It was 82 year-old Esther Nowell who was in charge of the PAWS adoption center in a space set aside at Ox Bow Pet Shop on Saturday, April 1, 2000. It was Esther who pulled the one-year-old brown tabby out of his cage and placed him in my carrier for the ride to his new home. It was Esther who a few days later delivered the adoption forms to me, and it was Esther who later picked up the paperwork.
Multiply that by (how many?) thousands and you begin to have an idea of the good that was done by Esther Nowell and the organization she created.

But Esther’s advocacy on behalf of animals went far beyond her work with PAWS. I was at the Town Meeting when Esther gave a dramatic presentation that would lead to a ban on the use of leg-hold traps in in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Local trappers present at Town Meeting had argued that leg-hold traps were not cruel. Esther stood up and placed one of the leg-hold traps on a table in front of Town Meeting. After she set the trap, she addressed the contingent of trappers glaring at her from the front row.

“Which one of you is going to come forward and put your hand in this trap?” Esther challenged the group. None of them moved, and the moderator quickly put a stop to any such experiment.

But Esther had made her point. The article passed by a large majority. Town Meeting banned the use of leg-hold traps in Wakefield.

Esther was a great lady to have on your side, but someone you did not want as an enemy. If Esther thought you were standing in the way of what was right, she let you know, loudly and often. Even those closest to her admit that Esther could sometimes be exasperating in her single-mindedness. But you don’t accomplish all that Esther accomplished without a streak of stubbornness. If anyone embodied the old saying, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” it was Esther.

You don’t have to have agreed with her politics or her methods, but no one can deny that Wakefield and the world is a better place because of Esther Nowell.

Even Esther herself probably never fully grasped the enormity of the good that she did – all the misery that animals were spared through her actions and those of PAWS, and all the happiness that she brought to so many, whether they walk on four paws or two feet.

Esther dedicated herself to advocating for those who truly could not speak for themselves. I know I speak for all the animals when I say, “Thank you, Esther, for everything.”

[This column originally appeared in the August 19, 2010 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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2 Responses to “Farewell Esther, and Thanks”

  1. I didn’t really know Esther personally, but I remember her well from my days in Wakefield. She always reminded me of earlier generations of crusading women, like Susan B. Anthony. This is a great tribute to her. It captures her spirit and toughness, and she would be happy to share the stage here with Teddy!

    • 2 Mark Sardella

      She was very much in the mold of the Susan B. Anthony crusader. She was an old Yankee and a determined Democrat, and a woman who liked to tell a good joke. Her memorial service was very touching.

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