Suzanne E. Estler


Orono - Activist, scholar, mentor, and friend, Suzanne Estler died April 10, 2019, of pancreatic cancer. She was 74 years old. Sue was known for her zest for life, her love of family and friends, and her commitment to social justice, especially gay rights. Sue loved life, lived it fully, and died in peace.
Sue was born September 16, 1944, to Calder and Beatrice (Vandervoort) Estler. She attended Douglass College of Rutgers University, where she made friendships that lasted her lifetime, cemented her enthusiasm for women's sports, and earned a B.A. in History/Political Science. Sue earned a M.A. in Human Relations from Ohio University and a PhD. in Educational Administration and Policy from Stanford University.
Sue held teaching and administrative positions at the University of Washington, Claremont Graduate School, Stanford University, the University of New York at Binghamton, Dickinson College, and Ohio University. After joining the University of Maine faculty in 1984, Sue gave tirelessly to the community in many capacities, including as Associate Professor of Higher Education (1994-2009) and Director of Equal Opportunity (1986-1997). As teacher and role model, Sue changed the course of many, many students' lives for the better.
A huge fan of women's basketball, Sue served for many years as official timekeeper for the University of Maine's Division 1 women's basketball team the Black Bears.
Sue was predeceased by her loving wife and life-partner, Paula Day Johnson. After 25 years together, Sue and Paula married on the first day gay marriage was legal in Maine, having fought passionately for marriage equality in the state.
Sue and Paula spent many summers on Swan's Island, where they were part of a diverse community of islanders and 'summer people.' One of Sue's great loves was lobstering; she had a recreational lobster license and enjoyed checking her traps in her boat the Paula Day. Sue also served on the island's comprehensive planning committee.
In addition to her professional commitments, Sue served on the boards of directors of many non-profit organizations, including the Orono Land Trust, Audubon Expedition Institute, Rape Response Services, Abenaki Girl Scouts Council, and SAGE Maine. She also volunteered with Spruce Run Association, Marriage Equality, and other social justice and environmental advocacy organizations.
Sue was committed to everything she undertook, professionally, personally, and as a citizen of the community. Her integrity, enthusiasm, good humor, kindness, and generous spirit touched those fortunate enough to know her.
Sue will be greatly missed by her sisters, Nancy Rollins, of Iowa and Florida and Patricia Brown of Riverhead, New York; and her brother, Louis "Skip" Estler of Orono, Maine; sisters-in-law, Sandra Johnson of Hallowell, Maine, and Karen H. Johnson of Minnesota; beloved nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, great-great-nephew, and many cherished friends and colleagues. Sue also leaves behind her dearly loved dogs, Tess and Fernie; and cats, Dude and Sam.
A celebration of Sue's life is planned for May 18, 2019, at 2 p.m. at the Wells Conference Center at the University of Maine, Orono.
In lieu of flowers, gifts in memory of Sue may be made to the Suzanne E. Estler, Ph.D., Student Support Fund by sending checks payable to the University of Maine Foundation, Two Alumni Place, Orono, ME 04469-5792, or online at
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Published on May 15, 2019
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