The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 30, 2002


Carlisle loses an icon First woman dispatcher licensed by the FCC served Carlisle for over 50 years

Esther E. Wilson, 98, formerly of Concord Street and the town dispatcher for the fire, police, DPW and schools from 1927 until her retirement in 1979, died on Monday, August 19, at her daughter Mary Gillespie's home in Lexington.

A funeral service was held on Friday, August 23, at the Wilson Memorial Chapel in Green Cemetery. The chapel was given in 1907 to the town of Carlisle by Captain Horace Waldo Wilson, the grandfather of Mrs. Wilson's husband Waldo D. Wilson, former Carlisle Fire Chief. It was Mrs. Wilson's wish to have her funeral services held in the chapel, with burial in the family plot immediately outside.

"The tools of Esther Wilson's trade" on display at the firehouse reception include her log books, microphones used in the truck, the brass cogs and ring-down system. (Photo by Molly Sorrows)
Family and friends gathered inside and outside the chapel late Friday morning. At exactly 11:30, the 1931 fire truck "Engine One," carrying Mrs. Wilson's casket from the Bedford Funeral Home in Bedford, arrived at the granite arch of the Heald Gate entrance to the Green Cemetery on Bedford Road. It must be noted that "Engine One"was driven by most senior firefighter David Duren. With a little time to spare, Duren suggested taking Mrs. Wilson for one last ride around the rotary before entering the cemetery. Everyone agreed with his plan and Mrs. Wilson had one final spin around the town.

Escorted by an honor guard of firemen led by fire chief Bob Koning, deputy fire chief Dave Flannery, and police chief Dave Galvin, the truck with the casket made its way across the cemetery in a formal procession towards the chapel. There the casket was removed and carried inside to the altar, where Jackie Hamilton had helped arrange the flowers. As the chapel is limited to only 47 seats, chairs had been set up outside where over 200 others gathered to listen to the service over a loudspeaker system.

Family and friends of Esther Wilson assemble outside the Wilson Chapel in Green Cemetery to listen to the funeral service over the loud speaker system. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)
The service was not a long one, but the memories of Mrs. Wilson were deeply felt and lovingly expressed. Alice Andreassen, Mrs. Wilson's granddaughter and daughter of Carlisle Town Clerk Sarah Andreassen, stood and took the small lamp that had sat on her grandmother's kitchen windowsill for 65 years and placed it on the casket, turning the light on. This lamp had served as a notice to family and friends that, when turned off, Mrs. Wilson had gone to bed. Then Alice spoke of her grandmother "Ya," who had served as her role model, and as someone who always looked to the positive side of life.

Fire Chief Bob Koning was next to speak. He is the man who took over as fire chief when Mrs. Wilson's husband Waldo retired in 1982. "Esther Wilson was a very special person. She was someone for whom I had the deepest respect and admiration. She devoted many unselfish years to the Carlisle Fire Department as the dispatcher ... Esther very seldom left her command post, but she was a wealth of information. She had an impeccable memory, right up to the end of her life. I loved to visit with her and hear about the history of the fire department and the town. She knew every firefighter by name and the year each joined the department. She could recall the time and date of every fire and which firefighters responded ... Esther handled every emergency with composure. It was always reassuring to hear her calm voice. Somehow she always managed to find us additional help when needed. We have lost a Carlisle icon, a true pillar of the community."

Pastor Keith Greer of the Carlisle Congregational Church and a former firefighter himself, conducted the final segment of the service. "It is with appreciation and affection that I say Esther Wilson was an institution in our town. By definition, an institution is an established custom, practice or system. 'Mrs. Dispatcher' was a system that when it came time to replace her, it required a number of persons and a lot of high tech equipment ... As town dispatcher, Esther was the first woman to be licensed by the FCC ... It is because of who she was and what she gave to the fire department and the town, that firefighters, with honor and respect, have tenderly transported her body to this chapel and on to her grave. They will host a reception at the fire station in her honor and have prepared a display of the equipment that she used on the job, which I think you all will enjoy."

As the service ended, Alice Andreassen rose and turned off her grandmother's small lamp. The firemen sitting in the front row carried the casket outside to the family burial plot. As the firemen, joined by the police chief, stood at attention at the grave site for the final salute, the town fire horn called twice for the "all over" (fire's over ­ its time to go home) call. It was followed immediately by a single blast ­ the noon whistle. It seemed fitting for a woman of Mrs. Wilson's stature to receive these three calls, one of which came coincidentally, at the very end of her funeral.

Firehouse reception

A delicious luncheon organized by the firemen and their wives was served back at the fire station. On a table set to one side of the station was a display of "the tools of Esther Wilson's trade," that fire department historian Dave Flannery and town historian Sarah Brophy had assembled.

From her home on Concord Street, Mrs. Wilson manned the fire horn and the ring-down system, and eventually the pagers to call the firefighters and forest wardens. She also received and relayed messages of fire, accident, loss or danger, and always messages of "help is coming." Among the items on display were her logbooks as well as the microphones used in the trucks for communicating at the scene and, the brass cogs corresponding to the street location of each incident. Dave Flannery said Mrs. Wilson's system has been preserved just in case something happens to the present electronic system.

Everyone had a story to tell about Esther Wilson. Dot Clark of Concord Street, just across the road from Esther, remembers her neighbor of 68 years as very confined by a job she took seriously. "The Wilsons were good neighbors and our children were good friends. They walked to school together and often played together here on the farm," recalled Dot. The Wilsons and the Clarks were married about the same time, during the Depression years. Dot remembers going to a wedding shower for Esther, just before Waldo and Esther were to be married.

There were many other stories to be told about Esther Wilson. Her daughter Sarah remembers her mother hanging clothes outside on the line while listening carefully so she wouldn't miss an incoming call. Dave Flannery spoke about how Mrs. Wilson had to bring in a replacement on Thursday so she could take a few hours off when her husband Waldo had time to take her shopping. In a discussion with Dave Duren, who has been a member of the fire department for forty years, he described the fire department like a big family, one in which Mrs. Wilson was very much a part.

We here at the Mosquito have our own Esther Wilson story to tell. Recently, when approached with the idea of being interviewed for the Oral History Project, she adamantly refused. Her reason was that she knew too much about what had gone on in the town over the past 50 years, and she was not willing to risk revealing things that might hurt other people's feelings. Here again, in her truly committed dispatcher role, she was discreet and faithful to the people in the town she had once served so well.

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito