SCARBOROUGH – Growing up during an era when women were expected to marry and settle down, Esther Dudley chose to be independent and pursue a secretarial career.

“She was such an inspiration,” said her niece Susan Gold. “I think during that time, it was not easy. She just did her own thing.”

Mrs. Dudley, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, lived every day to its fullest, her family said.

During her 33-year career, Mrs. Dudley worked her way from junior clerk secretary in the state employment office to administrative secretary for Maine’s institutional services department.

“She was very bright,” Gold said.

Working as executive secretary for four commissioners, Mrs. Dudley essentially trained them because she was so knowledgeable about the system, her niece said.

After she retired, Mrs. Dudley was interested in exploring the world, traveling to Peru, Mexico, Europe and across the country.

When she was in her 60s, Mrs. Dudley joined a friend and her friend’s son on a trip to Peru. Half of the group that was expected to travel canceled at the last minute because of terrorism by the Shining Path guerrillas. That didn’t faze Mrs. Dudley. Neither did the challenge of climbing Machu Picchu.

“Everybody ended up calling her ‘Inca girl.’ She wasn’t affected at all by altitude illness,” while travelers half her age had to stop frequently for breaks, Gold said.

“She was just charging right up (the mountain), leading the pack,” she said.

When her niece Jane Dudley-Ruel moved across the country from Maine to Washington state, Mrs. Dudley, who was 79 at the time, accompanied her.

Dudley-Ruel remembers her aunt saying, “You didn’t think I’d let you go out there by yourself,” when Dudley-Ruel’s husband was unable to make the trip.

“We were in a moving truck and we camped out of the truck the whole way. She was miraculous,” her niece said.

Despite the long drive and camping each night, Mrs. Dudley enjoyed the trip, her niece said. Her only complaint was that Dudley-Ruel didn’t let her help enough.

During the past year, Mrs. Dudley lived with Dudley-Ruel and her family in New York. With Dudley-Ruel’s husband teaching at a Waldorf school, Mrs. Dudley became a member of the school community. Her niece said all of the students called her Aunt Esther.

For her 90th birthday in May, the students made a birthday book for her. “Each child made a page of the book their card,” her niece said. “That was grand.”

Mrs. Dudley left behind a puzzle for the family to solve.

“She was very interested in our family heritage,” said Dudley-Ruel, who has a box of information that Mrs. Dudley collected over the years.

During one trip to London while Dudley-Ruel and her family lived there, Mrs. Dudley traced their history back to the Dudley Castle. She visited the landmark twice.

As far as the history she collected, that’s a mystery.

“It’s all in shorthand, several boxes of family history, which none of us know anything about,” her niece said.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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