'Such an incredible woman'

"Esther was feisty and full of life," recalled Karen Bowers, director of classified advertising, who for a time at work shared basement quarters Mrs. Dombrowski in the old WVOB Radio building on Hays Street, where much of the archives were when Mrs. Dombrowski worked at the newspaper. "She was such an incredible woman."

"She had more energy than a lot of people half her age. When Mr. D. [her late husband, Raymond] was alive, I don't think they ever slowed down,'" Bowers said, noting Mrs. Dombrowski's love of music. "They were always at concerts (whether or not he was performing) or going out dancing. I remember her being at a Tuba Christmas concert at the [Bel Air] Armory and she was smiling and moving in her seat to the music. You could tell that she was thoroughly enjoying it."

"She was part of the reason that the Empty Stocking got such a good start," Bowers continued. "Her dedication to special projects was incredible. She always put 150 percent into whatever she believed in."

"She could find pretty much find any news story printed, even if we didn't print it in one of our papers," Bowers said. "She never shook her 'school teacher' role. She was forever changing the bulletin boards at work, always giving credit to the people that worked so hard to get the news out. She was very proud of them and their work.

"Mrs. D. was a pure sweet person, whose work with us at The Aegis and Record was invaluable," Sports Editor Randy McRoberts said. "Despite crippling arthritis, Mrs. D. marched on with very few complaints. Seeing her just about a month ago, she was still that same caring, sweet person that I had the pleasure to know and work with for a very long time. Sad for her loss, but thankful her suffering is over."

Bringing order

"First and foremost, Mrs. D. brought order to the chaos of our newsroom," Ted Hendricks, managing editor of The Record in Havre de Grace when Mrs. D. started her second career, said. "When Peter A. Jay hired her to be The Record's librarian, our archives were a mess. She quickly brought a professionalism, an order and an orderliness to keeping track of everything we published."

As daunting as that task was, Hendricks said, it paled in comparison to what was in front of her after the 1989 consolidation of The Record and The Aegis news operations.

"When we came to Bel Air as the two competing newsrooms were merged, Mrs. D. had to start all over again with The Aegis," Hendricks, who has been executive editor of The Aegis for 20 years, said. "And there was a lot more to the Aegis files than she ever had to straighten out at The Record."

But it was the personal side of Mrs. D. that Hendricks said he remembers the most.

"I probably had more chats with Mrs. D. during our time together than with anyone I've ever worked with," Hendricks said, "and almost none of them were about her. She was always looking out for everyone else and doing what she could to help others."

"She was a bit feisty, but always in a kind, sweet way," Hendricks said. "We're all better off for having known Mrs. D."

Many memories

"When I think of Esther Dombrowski, I have a lot of good memories," Editorial Page Editor Jim Kennedy, one of the current staff who worked with her the longest, said.

"Our first introduction came when we were both working in Havre de Grace at The Record," Kennedy recalled. "I was a new reporter with relatively little experience, and she was in charge of the newspaper's extensive clip and photograph files. Traditionally, these archives have been known as 'morgues,' as they are the repositories for dead stories. Mrs. D. made it clear that the archive at The Record was not a morgue, but a library and she was a librarian."

"She had spent a career as the librarian at Bel Air High School, which also was her alma mater, and was willing to work in a newspaper's library as a part time retirement job, but there was no way she was going to work in a morgue," he added.

"She had a wry wit. She had played basketball at Bel Air High School and was part of a championship women's team," Kennedy continued. "One time we were going through some clips, probably because a story was in the works about a basketball team anniversary, and she showed me a photo of her high school team. I remember commenting, 'You were quite a looker.' Without skipping a beat, she shot back with a big smile, "What do you mean were?"

"She and her husband, Ray, had no children, but I don't think I'm alone in feeling like they both regarded the younger people around them as surrogate kids," Kennedy said.

The boiler room