UPDATED: Esther A.H. Hopkins, 94, Chemist, Environmental Attorney, & First & Only African-American Framingham Select Board Member

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Last updated at 6 p.m. on May 24. First posted at 5:57 p.m. on May 21.

FRAMINGHAM – The first African-American Framingham Selectwoman Esther A.H. Hopkins, 94, has died on May 19, 2021.

The Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS) announced her death earlier today to members.

“We regret to inform you of the passing of Esther A.H. Hopkins, longtime member of the ACS and of the Northeastern Section,” wrote the NESACS.

Esther Arvilla Harrison Hopkins, born on September 18, 1926, was a female African-American chemist and environmental attorney.

Hopkins was a biophysicist and research chemist. She was also an attorney with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

She served on the Board of Selectmen from 1999 to the early 2000s, even becoming the Board’s first African-American chair. After stepping down as a Selectwoman, she became member of the Keefe Tech Regional Vocational School Committee until retiring from politics to Martha’s Vineyard with her son. She also was involved in the Framingham Finance Commission and Framingham’s Tercenntenial Celebration.

“I enjoyed serving with Esther on the Board of Selectmen for several years in the 1990s and early 2000s, both as a Select Board member and as Town Counsel,” said Chris Petrini, current City attorney for the City of Framingham. “Esther was a community leader, highly engaged and intelligent, collaborative in the true sense of the word, and a friend. She always had the town’s best interest at heart and I will miss her.”

“I am fondly remembering Esther Hopkins. She was a brilliant scientist, a voice for the cause of environmental justice, and a community leader in Framingham, where she served on the town’s select board. We are blessed by her talents and commitment to others,” said Senate president Karen E. Spilka on Monday, May 24. Hopkins is featured in the Senate President’s HERstory exhibit.

“Esther broke barriers across government, always putting her community first in her long history of public service,” said State Rep. Maria Robinson. “She was a brilliant and accomplished woman, who will be deeply missed.”

“Esther Hopkins was one of the finest people I have met. I feel lucky to have had her on the Board of Selectmen when I was Town Manager,” said current City Council Chair George P. King. Jr. “Her combination of intellect, grace and empathy were admirable. I am very sorry to hear of her passing.”

“I am deeply saddened to learn of Esther’s passing. I was just thinking about her earlier this week when I saw her son’s most recent achievement in Facebook post. When I was a young child my family we lived around the corner from hers in the Jean Street-Higgins Road neighborhood. Decades later we served together as founding members of the Racial and Ethnic Disparities Workgroup at the Metrowest Health Foundation. And after that, I followed her path to be one of only nine women to serve as a Framingham Selectman in the 317 years that we were a town. She was the only African American ever to serve on the board. She blazed trails for others,” said former Framingham City Councilor Cheryl Tully Stoll, who also served as chair of the Framingham Board of Selectmen,

“Esther’s thirst for education, her multiple degrees and her and long-term relationship with higher education was also very impressive,” said Tully Stoll. “What touched me most about Esther; was her effort and actions to make other people’s lives better. She worked for culturally appropriate health care services for all people; she provided strong a voice in local government for those who otherwise wouldn’t have had one; and she served as an inspiration to all of us who want to serve others. Esther Hopkins was one-of-a-kind, and Framingham was richer for her having lived here.”

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Esther. I had the privilege and honor of serving with her on the Board of Selectmen from 1999 to 2004, said former City Councilor and former Select Board Chair Charlie Sisitsky. “She served one year as Chair. Esther was a very intelligent and polite person always put the interests of Framingham first. My condolences go out to her family. May her memory be a blessing.”

“I enjoyed serving with Esther on the Board of Selectmen,” said former Interim Town Manager, Town Clerk, and Select Board member Valerie Mulvey. “Her knowledge, empathy, and commitment to Framingham were inspiring.”

“How sad, but what a remarkable life! It was a privilege to work with Esther. She was a role model in thoughtful leadership. I learned a lot about being a dedicated public servant from sitting at the Selectman meetings with her week after week. She was quiet but determined. Esther did the hard work of looking at every aspect of an issue and standing up for her conclusions,” said former Selectman Katie Murphy. “She treated all constituents with respect and the same for our municipal employees.”

Murphy said she remembered “one evening as we were approving Minutes, she observed that in one set, she was reported to have ‘opined’ on a subject. She raised that point and quietly but firmly asked that it be changed. Esther said she had not ‘opined’ but had reported the facts of the issue.” said Murphy. “As an official that has taken minutes of a meeting, this taught me that words matter and clarity in every part of what we do is important. A life well lived, Selectwoman Hopkins. You made a difference.”

“Esther was a trailblazer, who interjected her intellect and integrity into everything she touched,” said current District 8 City Councilor and former Selectman John Stefanini. “It was a pleasure to serve with her.”

“It is with great sadness and heartfelt admiration that we mourn the loss of Dr. Esther Hopkins. She was a trailblazer professionally in government and chemistry, as well as a wife, mother and the first African-American woman ever elected Selectwoman in Framingham. Dr. Hopkins was a mentor, friend and proud to pass the baton of government leadership to the ones who came after, including me. I mourn this tremendous loss with her family, friends and colleagues. I thank her for faithful and dedicated service. May she Rest In Peace,” said Mayor Yvonne Spicer in a statement sent by the City’s Public Information Officer.

“Dr. Ester Hopkins was a pioneer both in chemistry and in public service to the Town of Framingham, In the American  Chemical Society she received many honors and served in key positions both in the Northeast Section of ACS and the National Society,” said C. Patrick Dunne, who also was a member of the chemical society.

“She gave outstanding service to Framingham when elected to the Board of Selectmen, serving from 1999 to 2004. I enjoyed seeing her and her son when they came to the Selectmen’s reunion marking our transition from a town to a city in 2017,” said Dunne, who served on the Framingham School Committee, during the same time frame that Hopkins served on the Select Board.

“Esther was an exceptional nice and very accomplished woman who served Framingham in many capacities with distinction and honor,” said former Framingham Selectmen Chair Dennis Giombetti.

SOURCE profiled her last year as part of a series honoring women in politics. Part of that profile and information from the an obituary announcement by Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (NESACS) are included in this posting.

“I had the absolute pleasure and honor of interviewing Esther as part of the Honoring Women in Politics series in celebration of the 19th amendment last year,” said former Framingham SOURCE intern Isabella Petroni. “She had maintained the qualities mentioned by others that were noteworthy: drive, savviness, intelligence, and wit.”

“While the interview portion of our call took around 45 minutes, we spent just as long discussing what had happened in the city since she retired to Martha’s Vineyard. She was excited to know what was going on in the city that she had made a mark on as a selectwoman all those years ago from the building of the new Fuller Middle School to the founding of the Youth Council,” said Petroni, who is chair of the Framingham Youth Council. “I hope that Framingham will make the effort to honor her in the way that this trailblazer of science, law, and politics deserves to be honored. Generations should not forget the name of this incredible woman in all the work she did over her lifetime.”

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Born on September 18, 1926, in Stamford, Connecticut, to Esther Small and George Burgess Harrison, Hopkins lived on Martha’s Vineyard at the time of her death.

Esther Arvilla Harrison’s mother migrated from Society Hill, South Carolina, to New Rochelle, New York, at the age of 12 (1901) to move north and work as a maid for a New Rochelle family. Small was the first member of her family fully freed from slavery. She was also the first member of family to graduate from high school and to own a home. While working as a chauffeur in Stamford, Connecticut, she married George Burgess Harrison, who was also employed as a chauffeur. George Harrison was raised in East Orange, New Jersey where he attended high school, but dropped out to work as a janitor and chauffeur, according to NESACS email about her death.

Esther Harrison was born in 1926 and along with two brothers one older and one younger. The Harrison family battled poverty, but Esther spent most of her time at the public library and the Stamford theater. Her parents also provided her with piano lessons even when facing financial adversity, according to a posting by the NESACS on her passing.

Hopkins was known as a really smart kid in her youth in Stamford, CT. At the age of 3, she started kindergarten when she passed an early enrollment test. She excelled in the classroom, particularly in the subjects of math and chemistry.

She graduated from Stamford High School in 1943 and she was 21st in her graduating class.

Hopkins sent her sights on medical school due to her interest in math and chemistry.

Hopkins was president of her local Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

When she was younger, she was telling her aspirations of medical school to a white woman who was a YWCA member, the woman suggested to Hopkins that she might consider becoming a hairdresser.

Hopkins said “I remember thinking, ‘Why would she think I should be a hairdresser?

No. I’m not doing that.”

Hopkins’ first choice for higher education was Yale. Unfortunately, the school wasn’t coed in 1943, so she applied and was accepted to Boston University instead.

She pursued pre-med at Boston University, graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry in 1947, and then applied to BU’s medical school.

Unfortunately, she was rejected due to quotas present that only allowed for two African American student seats, which was filled by a military serviceman and a woman who already had a master’s.

Alternatively, she attended Howard University where she received her master’s degree in organic chemistry in 1949.

After being rejected from Boston University Medical School, she set her sights on a career in chemistry, a field she was fascinated with since she was young. She then applied to Howard University and eventually received an M.S. in Organic Chemistry in 1949.

After receiving her M.S. from Howard University, she taught chemistry at Virginia State College from 1949 to 1952 before wanting to pursue research. She became an assistant researcher of biophysics at the New England Insitute for Medical Research in 1955 until 1959. She then worked as a chemist at American Cyanamid in Stamford, CT.

While working for American Cyanamid, she finally got accepted into her first choice university, Yale. She got her second M.S. in Chemistry in 1962 and a PhD. in Chemistry in 1967. For her dissertation, she focused on the effects of ADP, a chemical compound necessary for cells to function, in fireflies.

After receiving her Ph.D. from Yale, Hopkins was offered a job as a supervisory research chemist with the Polaroid Corporation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During her time there, she led the Emulsion Coating and Analysis Laboratory, checking the chemical composition of the coating used for Polaroid’s film strips.

Due to her status as an African-American woman in science, Hopkins eventually attended a conference hosted by the National Science Foundation in 1975. The conference, known as the Double Bind Symposium, was focused on the challenges that people of color, women, and the disabled face and illuminate the underrepresentation in STEM fields.

While working for Polaroid, she attended Suffolk University Law School where she received her J.D. with a concentration in Patent Law in 1976. After leaving Polaroid in 1989, she began work at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection as the Deputy General Counsel.

Her time as the Deputy General Counsel is what eventually got her to become an elected official in Framingham.

According to Hopkins, “People knew [her] son in Framingham because we lived there and I commuted to work. When I was first decided that I really wanted to apply to be on the Selectboard after we got the strong town manager form of government, moving away from the executive director, and I put my name in and got the interest to do that. At the first meeting when they introduced me, they said I was Tommy Hopkins’ mother and I said ‘I have a name of my own’.

Hopkins then talked about establishing herself as her own person separate from her well-known son, “People greeted me in the grocery store ‘You’re Tommy’s mother!’ and these people all voted for me.”

Hopkins married John Mitchell in 1955, who was pursuing a doctorate at Boston University when they met. They had a daughter named Susan who died in early adulthood due to diabetes complications. The marriage ended a few years later.

Esther moved back to Stamford in 1959, where she met and married Ewell Hopkins in 1959, a local minister and social worker. Together they had one son, Ewell Hopkins Jr. Esther was married to Ewell for 42 years before his death in 2001.

SOURCE will post the obituary and services when available.

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176


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