Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 August 2013

Esther Quinn (1924-2013) RIP

Clark @ 10:16 am

EstherQuinnEarly this morning, my mother died.  She’d been wanting to go;  having lost one leg to bad circulation and with continuing pain in the other for the same reason, her quality of life wasn’t great despite the loving care my brother and family provided.  She needed help to get around, and hated to impose.  She’d already outlived all her siblings, and fortunately her passing was relatively quick and painless.

She had led a most interesting life; she grew up in Germany in a slightly privileged family (with a few servants), including during the time of World War II.  The war was tough on the family; while one of her two twin brothers was lost to leukemia, the other lost his life as a fighter pilot.  Her firm but loving father was briefly imprisoned for not being an ardent proponent of Hitler, but as a community official the local townspeople advocated for his release.  Their house was bombed during the course of the war, but they had escaped to the countryside home of their family friends.  I remember my mom telling me about heading with a friend to that region, and ducking under trees at times to avoid planes machine-gunning the field!

She was anorexic for a time, and so had to spend time in the hills of Czechoslovakia to recuperate, escaping some of the war. She also studied nursing in Switzerland, again avoiding some of the carnage, and felt remorse in both cases.  She was also embarrassed about getting credit for not participating in a war-hawking May Day parade because the real reason wasn’t principled objection but instead that she didn’t want her birthday preempted.  For the rest of her life she was always looking to help others.  She was sympathetic to the disabled, as her father had lost his arm in the first world war, yet never let that slow him down.

After the war, she headed to the New York to stay with her aunt, and worked taking care of an elderly lady.  She grew tired of being cold, and headed west by bus. She almost stopped in New Mexico, but ended up continuing on to Los Angeles, where she worked in a hospital, and ended up meeting my father, Nives.  She never regretted leaving her native land and family, though she did miss them.

My folks got married, and she subsequently became a mother to me and then my brother Clif.  With no proximal family of hers, she had to become quite independent, also as my father worked long hours.  She kept us well fed, becoming a good cook and a strong advocate of natural foods long before such became popular.  A good education was also a priority, and she took us to museums regularly as well as advocating for summer school and other activities.  Frugal too (and occasionally penny-wise and pound-foolish, as she’d laughingly admit), our regular vacations were camping except for the occasional trips to Germany to visit her family.  And she was capable: she knitted us sweaters, sewed, gardened, and had a ‘can do’ attitude.

She eventually went back to nursing when we were old enough, and was a revered fixture in the local emergency room for many years (though we had to restrain her from telling injury tales at the dinner table).  She and my father remained active in politics and social efforts; after retirement they did considerable traveling but also volunteered time when home. She was always heading off to go shopping for the abused women’s shelter or to deliver something for somebody in need.   She also was continually restless, courtesy of an overactive thyroid gland, and it was a family joke that she’d say she was finally going to sit and watch a movie, but soon she’d be up making snacks or doing some other thing around the house.

The thing that I grew to recognize and appreciate was how much my mother was a people person. Our house regularly had visitors, often from far away.  My mom had the gift of really listening – she loved hearing others’ stories about life – and the next time she met you she would remember and ask.  And help if she could.  As a consequence, my folks always had invitations to visit, and people they met on their travels were always stopping through on their way elsewhere.

She never thought she was smart or wise, and yet she was both.  She cared and her varied experience and endless curiosity meant she often had something useful to say.  Her brain remained strong long after her body began to fail her.  Despite the travails of infirmities, she continued with good cheer.

She was gentle, kind, thoughtful, and good, and we were very very lucky to have her.  Rest in Peace.


  1. Dear Clark and Clif, so many weeks after Esthers “going-home” I found your mail. She followed her sister Elisabeth very soon.
    May both be happy in eternity.
    Esther was the most wonderful Person I ever have met!!!!
    With love
    Maria from München

    Comment by Maria Noehmeier — 18 October 2013 @ 8:07 am

  2. Dear Clifton and Clark
    we are your aunt Elisabeth’s friends from Verona in Italy. Clif,if you remember, we met in the occasion of your aunt’s commemoration in Munich. We’ve heard about your mother’s passing away; she followed her sister very soon, but now they are together at last!
    You are certainly sad for this great loss, but you have to be happy and proud to have had such a special mother!
    We didn’t have enough time to know her well during her short stay in Verona, but Clark’s tribute let us appreciate her better and see how many characteristics she shared with her sister Elisabeth.
    May both of them rest in peace!

    Anyway we can’t forget some amusing episodes happened during her stay for a couple of nights at Tino and Luigina’s house, where Elisabeth usually stayed when she came to Verona.
    Your parents went to sleep in the attic that is very close to the bell tower of the church.In the morning when Luigina asked them if they had slept well , they answered the bed was fantastic, but they couldn’t sleep at all because the bells had rung every hour.
    Then they told them of their strange and unconfortable journey from Il Cairo to Joannesbourgh on an old and not confortable lorry at all after having rented their cosy house :The ring of the bells wouldn’t have stopped them!
    They were very great people!
    With our sincere condolences

    Luigina e Tino Verdari, Laura e Gianni Zanardo

    Comment by Laura Gianni Tino Luigina — 27 October 2013 @ 10:52 am

  3. Dear Clif and Clark –

    My sincerest condelence on the passing of your mother. I just came across Clark’s tribute and I wanted to express my sorrow for her passing.

    We spent many years growing up together on Crestwood Street, and your home was like my “second home” when we were kids.

    I feel bad that we lost touch but I wanted to let you know that your parents were outstanding and loving people and both of them had an enormous and positive impact on me personally.

    Your mother was a wonderful person. Rest in Peace

    Comment by Jim Stern — 26 December 2013 @ 4:43 pm

  4. I met Esther and Nives in 1981 when we were together on Sundowners 3-month international camping trip, London to Kathmandu via Russia and the Eastern Bloc countries. We had been exchanging Christmas letters ever since, and I learned of her death only this past week when I phoned her son’s home to find out why she hadn’t written.

    Though the oldest in our Sundowners’ camping group, Esther and Nives were dynamos, who could leave the rest in their dust, particularly Esther. Tiny and sparrowlike, she was always on the move. When the tour ended in Kathmandu, they weren’t finished, but went on to visit Darjeeling, Calcutta and the Philippines on their own, something it has taken me 30 years to accomplish.

    I traveled with them again in 1986 on Goways 2-month camping tour around South America. We were on an old American school bus on its last legs, that kept breaking down and finally died in the Atacama Desert of Chile. But we kept on going on public transportation to our final goal of Quito, Ecuador.

    We kept in touch with Christmas letters and postcards, and I stopped several times when en route south to see them in their lovely home on Crestwood Street in San Pedro. It had a gorgeous view of the lights of the city and harbor below, but the thing that was best for me was how they tastefully incorporated the souvenirs from their travels in the decor. I recognized some of the pieces, because I had been there too, and I loved that. Esther always made a guest feel welcome, with homemade cookies and some special souvenir by the bed.

    The last time I saw them was when they were living in a mobile home just about one year before Nives’ death. I stayed with them one night on my way to Pasadena to see the Rose Bowl Parade. The mobile home was very large and nice, but I felt sad that they had given up their lovely home in the hills. I guess the price was so good, they couldn’t resist.

    After Nives died, Esther sold the mobile home and moved to San Diego to live near her son’s family. I am glad she could spend her last years with her family.

    I always thought she and Nives had it all, an example of a life well spent. JUNE JOVAN

    Comment by June Jovan — 1 January 2014 @ 1:43 pm

  5. Hello Clark

    My condolences

    I am greatful to have met Esther in the South Pacific
    many years ago and visted her in California
    we did stay in touch over all those years

    good to read that she could pass over easyly

    Greetings form Switzerland

    Comment by Irmi — 2 June 2014 @ 1:54 am

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