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Greene: Esther's Impact

04/16/12 7:55AM By Stephanie Greene
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(Host) Last month, Vermont historian Esther Munroe Swift died peacefully in her sleep. Commentator Stephanie Greene, who lives with her family on their Windham County farm, considers Esther's personal - as well as public - impact.

(Greene) Esther Munroe Swift loved to track down and organize facts. This made her a natural to write the classic book, Vermont Place Names, published by my parents' Stephen Greene Press and edited by my mother, Janet Greene. The research took nearly twenty years. During that time, Esther visited every single one of our 251 towns, and she had a keen appreciation of history as a living part of Vermont life.

One of my earliest memories of Esther was when I was about eight and she visited our house with her sons, who were about ten years older than I was. I took them to our pool for a swim, where her son Alex announced that he had to take out his contact lenses in order to go in.

Back then, contacts were pretty new and I thought he had one, or worse, two, glass eyes, which he was proposing to remove. It was too much for this little hostess, and I ran down to the house in terror. Esther explained the mechanics of the lenses, but only hit on the perfectly pacifying information when she remarked that Vice President Lyndon Johnson also wore contacts.

Photo Courtesy Of Bonnie Tocher Clause
Esther Munroe Swift in 2007
Later, when Esther and her friend Irene Corotneff bought the General Stevens house in South Royalton, it had been abandoned for many years. If they found a door open, it wouldn't close; if it was closed, it wouldn't open. The back part of the foundation was gone, and one side of the house sagged 27 inches lower than the other. It was as if, her son, Brian, says, the house was near death, breathing shallowly, waiting for Esther to come along. Reenie wanted to put up new wallpaper right away, but Esther had other plans. She got the house jacked up, the foundations reinforced, the rotten sills replaced, the floor leveled out. Step by step, over two summers, the house was saved.

It's said that some librarians are eager to share books with the public while the chief passion of others is guarding them from the public. Somehow Esther did both. She used to say that the way you showed love was to help the people you cared about do what they wanted to do, so she showered people with books from her collection.

When she found out that I, at 17, was becoming interested in anthropology, she showed up at our house with a copy of History Begins at Sumer, a wonderful description of all the firsts the Sumerians accomplished as a society. Friends who developed interests in spinning or cooking or geology could likewise expect to be presented - out of the blue - with some tome or other on their subject.

And Esther continues to share: Her outstanding collection of Vermontiana, put together with love over a professional lifetime will be housed intact in the State Archives and Records Administration. It will be named for her - and open to the public.


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