Estelle R. Robinson died quietly at home in West Orange, N.J., on Feb. 6, just weeks from her 94th birthday. Born in Trenton, N.J., in 1921, she was proud of her many achievements in both her professional and personal life. She was married for 62 years to Dr. Irving W. Robinson, who predeceased her. Together they raised, nurtured, and took pride in three daughters and four grandchildren. They were immersed in each other’s work, ideas, and activities. She helped Irving establish his pediatric practice in their home in Trenton. For more than 40 years, the Victorian house near the center of the city was home to the family and the patients. She was professor emeritus at Rutgers University, where she founded the Center for Community Education in the Cooperative Extension Division, which later moved to the School of Social Work. The center continues today as the Institute for Families. Her life’s work centered on connecting community providers and promoting cross-discipline collaboration for best practices in service delivery. She founded the Network on Adolescent Pregnancy and the Network for Family Life Education for that purpose, as well as other collaborative programs.
Estelle was a strong and independent woman who inspired her family members with her early and ardent feminism, progressive politics, concern for the oppressed and those living in poverty, and support for community organizing. She had a keen mind that lasted throughout her lifetime. She was an avid reader of fiction and nonfiction works, as well as being completely versed in current events until a few weeks before she died. She was politically astute, following local, state, and national activities. Estelle was a warm, loving, and loyal friend to many people over the course of her life. At the end of her life she was still in regular communication with friends she had met in elementary school, college, and her days as a young mother and as a professor. Neighbors, friends of friends, Vineyard buddies, the friends of her children and grandchildren, casual acquaintances, and random strangers were included in her attention. They enjoyed her insightful commentary, sage advice, and deep
attention. She had an uncanny ability to connect to and touch everyone she met. She cared deeply about the human condition, and was a generous and charitable contributor to many humanitarian causes.
For more than 50 years Estelle Robinson spent summers on the Vineyard. In 1961, when she was planning a family vacation touring New England with her husband and young daughters, she wrote to the Chamber of Commerce requesting information about the Island, which she had heard might be a tranquil place to recover from her mother’s recent death. The chamber recommended efficiency apartments at what was then the Katama Shores Inn. The family stayed long enough to be charmed, invite other friends and family to meet them, and even wander all the way up-Island to the Gay Head Cliffs. As was the custom then, they climbed down to the beach, and under the clay cliffs, Estelle reported, she found some peace with her recent loss. That Island solace led to decades of August rentals, and finally, in 1985 she and Irving purchased a retirement home in West Tisbury. That became the center for large dinner parties, intimate soirees, family gatherings, and quiet afternoons napping and reading on the deck.
Estelle will be greatly missed by those who survive her: daughter Amy Robinson of New York, daughter Joy Robinson-Lynch and her partner Ned Robinson-Lynch of West Tisbury, daughter Eve Robinson and her husband Thomas Fraioli of Montclair, N.J., and grandchildren Sophia and Olivia Fraioli, Gabriel Robinson-Lynch, Elana R.L. Story and her wife Ilana Sherer, and her great-grandchild, Elliot Story Sherer, as well as many loving nieces and nephews and friends.
There will be a memorial service in West Orange on Feb. 14, and an on-Island memorial gathering is being planned for this summer. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her honor to the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center or the Southern Poverty Law Center.