Estelle A. Buccino, a former secretary who had a love for reading, music and cats, dies

Estelle A. Buccino performed secretarial work for R.E.M. and developed a longtime relationship with the band.

Estelle A. Buccino, a former secretary who had a love of reading, music, the arts and cats, died Oct. 14 of heart failure at her Roland Park residence. She was 89.

“She was just beginning to plan her 90th birthday party when she died,” said her son, Daniel L. Buccino, a clinical manager at the Johns Hopkins Hospital Broadway Center for Addiction, who lives in Wyman Park.


The former Estelle Marie Ambrose, daughter of Lithuanian and Polish immigrant parents, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Her father was manager of the morgue at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, and her mother was a homemaker and church choir member.

“She was born on the cobblestone, waterfront streets of pre-hipster Williamsburg, the Brooklyn neighborhood, as the first of five children,” her son wrote in a biographical profile of his mother. “The family moved to Rego Park, Queens, New York, where their rent-controlled apartment remained in the family for nearly 80 years.”


After graduating from a Roman Catholic parochial school, Mrs. Buccino attended Hunter College.

“I saw her transcript once, and she had 130 credits, but I don’t know why she never earned a degree,” her son said in a telephone interview.

After college, she worked in Manhattan as a film and theater production assistant and later took a sales associate position at Bloomingdale’s, an upscale department store, and did some modeling.

She fell in love with Alphonse “Al” Buccino, and they married in 1953. Because her husband had been drafted into the Marines during the Korean War, they moved around the country to various military posts.

After he was discharged in the late 1950s, they settled in Chicago, where her husband completed his Ph.D. and she worked as a medical secretary at what is now the University of Chicago Medical Center.

“There she established herself as a conscientious administrative professional and as an exceptionally fast and accurate typist and transcriptionist,” her son wrote. “Throughout her working years, she was an accomplished and scrupulous medical secretary and became an early computer adapter in order to access the efficiencies of word processing software.”

Even after the birth of her son, Mrs. Buccino continued to work outside the home or from home, while being active in her son’s school’s PTA or serving as a class mom. A confirmed political liberal and supporter of various causes, she often took her son to marches, rallies and concerts.

In 1971, her husband, a mathematician who had been teaching at DePaul University, took a job at the National Science Foundation in Washington, and the family moved to Bethesda. There, she became an avid gardener and learned to care for a unique collection of camellia trees in her yard that had been imported from South Carolina by her home’s original owner.


“Compared to my father, she was a quiet intellectual,” her son said. “She loved popular culture and watched ‘Saturday Night Live’ the week before she died.”

She had been a fan of the Saturday night staple for 48 years. Other shows that occupied her attention and engendered her loyalty for decades included “The Prisoner,” “Twin Peaks” and “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

Early on, Mrs. Buccino embraced the music of the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds and Miles Davis, and her son became involved in the early days of the Washington punk rock scene with his band, Insect Surfers.

“Back in Chicago, she once had a drink with Miles Davis,” her son said. “She became a steady and popular presence at just about all the Surfer shows in the Northeast and was a combination ‘band mom’ and ‘merch chick.’ At the time, I didn’t think her selling band merchandise was too cool.”

When the Surfers played a 40th-anniversary concert at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance in 2019, Mrs. Buccino was there “as the Insect Surfers remain Planet Earth’s longest continuously running modern surf band,” her son wrote.

Mr. Buccino said his mother “watched and listened to all the bands from the B-52s to Iggy Pop, and she had opinions,” he said with a laugh.


The couple moved to Athens, Georgia, in 1983 when her husband was appointed a dean at the University of Georgia. She continued pursuing her musical interests and had earned the moniker of “the Chatelaine of Witherspoon Court,” where she and her husband lived and where she opened her home to touring bands and welcomed them with boundless hospitality after attending their performances.

While performing secretarial work for R.E.M. as it was preparing to launch its first international tour, she developed a longtime relationship with the alternative band that resulted in her amassing a first-rate collection of its records and band memorabilia.

In 1995, the family returned to their former home in Bethesda, where Mrs. Buccino took a job working for the Baltimore Psychotherapy Institute, from which she retired.

She was a cat fancier and briefly for a time raised Siamese cats at her Bethesda home.

“I used to joke with her that I was raised by her Siamese cat Socrates,” her son said.

Mrs. Buccino and her husband moved to Roland Park Place in 2011, where she continued her political activism and commitment to social justice and helped organize a Woman’s March solidarity demonstration in 2017, even though she was in her 80s.


She was an avid reader and had assembled an “extensive, eclectic library because she believed in education,” her son said.

“She read three newspapers a day,” Mr. Buccino said. “She loved reading obituaries, and she’d say, ‘Who doesn’t?’”

Mrs. Buccino enjoyed visiting museums, attending the theater, eating in restaurants with family and friends, and doing jigsaw puzzles.

She was a serious stamp collector and, consistent with her own interests and her husband’s training as a mathematician, she was the secretary-treasurer of the mathematical study unit of the American Topical Association for nearly 40 years, as well as serving as copy editor of Philmath, its journal.

At Roland Park Place, she had earned a reputation as a “warm, humorous and engaged person” who regularly sent birthday cards to other residents, her son said.

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She was also known throughout her life as an engaging and interesting conversationalist. “She had a wicked and occasional dark sense of humor,” recalled her son.


Her husband died in 2015.

Mrs. Buccino left her body to the state anatomy board.

She was a communicant of Saints Philip & James Roman Catholic Church on North Charles Street, where plans for a Mass are incomplete.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a brother, Paul Ambrose, of Edison, New Jersey, and three grandchildren.