Linda Kester Cotter

CONCORD, Mass. – Linda Kester Cotter, 83, died peacefully at home on Jan. 8, 2021, surrounded by her family.

Linda was born on Sept. 19, 1937 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the daughter of Harold E. and Rose Rothstein Kester and grew up in Brooklyn with her younger sister, Marjorie, and a large, close extended family of cousins.

An unusually capable student, Linda graduated at the age of 16 from James Madison High School and went on to Wellesley College, where she was President of Forum and in 1956 served as Massachusetts statewide Chair of the Students for (Adlai) Stevenson Presidential Campaign. During the campaign she enlisted William “Bill” Cotter, president of the Harvard Young Democrats to recruit student volunteers. As Bill was fond of saying, Linda was his boss. They became friends and later, began dating. She graduated with honors from Wellesley in 1958.

Linda and Bill were married in 1959 at the Kester family home on Long Island and moved to Cambridge, Mass. to pursue their graduate studies. Linda earned her master’s in teaching at the Harvard School of Education while Bill finished at Harvard Law School.

Linda taught elementary school in Lexington, Mass., New York City, and Kaduna, Nigeria and English at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. She worked for David Rockefeller on Latin American issues, at the Ford Foundation, as the executive director of the Ellis Phillips Foundation and later helped launch the Women’s Rights program at the Geneva-based Oak Foundation.

After her family moved to Waterville for Bill’s position as president of Colby College, she was a much loved and admired “First Lady” from 1979 to 2000 and served Colby in many capacities, including establishing programs to help students secure internships.

While Linda achieved much professionally, she was first a full and equal partner for Bill and a mother. Her three children were the center of her world, and that expanded to excelling as a grandmother when her two granddaughters came along. She adored them, and they, her.

She loved her beautiful flower gardens, reading books and two daily newspapers, and a good cup of tea. She was outspoken against racial and gender discrimination. She was a founder of the Mid-Maine Global Forum as well as two women’s support groups in Florida and Massachusetts, and served on many nonprofit boards.

Linda was small in stature but incredibly strong. She survived a serious form of cancer in the 1940s and other medical challenges over the years. She lived her last two years enduring the arduous course of thrice weekly dialysis treatments.

In her final days of life, as friends and family members shared their love and appreciation for Linda, they noted how kind, brilliant, caring, gracious, and elegant she was. She made countless people feel respected, appreciated, and cared-for. Most of all, her family.

Linda was predeceased by her beloved daughter, Deborah Anne; and her parents.

She leaves behind her devoted husband of 61 years, Bill; her son, David and his partner, Jessica LaRue of San Diego, her daughter Elizabeth and husband Michael Schlax of Yarmouth; and her treasured granddaughters, Elena and Jillian Schlax. She is also survived by her sister, Marjorie Smith of Durham N.H.; and the Smith, Zamore and Cotter families and countless other relatives and friends from the many stages of her life.

Linda will be laid to rest next to her daughter in Concord, Mass. An online memorial gathering will be held in the coming months.

To share a remembrance or to offer a condolence in her online guestbook, please visit

In lieu of flowers, please consider giving to the Linda K. Cotter Internship Fund at Colby College or a charity of your choice.

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