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A good time to remember Bob Estabrook, thanks to Salisbury Rotary

The Lakeville Journal Editorial

Last week was a special one in the annual life of The Lakeville Journal. It’s the week when one of the company’s summer interns receives from the Salisbury Rotary Club the Bob Estabrook Intern Award, recognizing excellent work done while learning how to practice local community journalism. It can be difficult to choose one intern who shines on any given year, but that is our mission when the Rotary Club is ready to bestow the award at the end of the summer. This year, intern Sadie Leite was the recipient, and if you read this newspaper, you will have seen the steadily improving and well-written work she’s done this summer (see story about the Rotary award ceremony here) Congratulations and gratitude to Sadie for her enthusiasm and hard work this summer, which led to her getting to know her community even better and to understand the importance of local journalism.

In that Bob Estabrook died in 2011, there could be those who don’t know or don’t remember who he was and what his contribution was to The Lakeville Journal and to the Salisbury community. He and his wife, Mary Lou, came to the Northwest Corner in 1970-71 to purchase The Lakeville Journal from Stewart and Ann Hoskins, then purchased The Millerton News in 1972. Estabrook came to this part of the country after working at The Washington Post from 1946 to 1971, where he was a reporter, foreign correspondent and covered the United Nations, as well as being editorial page editor for eight years. But once he and his family settled in Salisbury, they found a home that they cherished. 

Estabrook, during his time at The Lakeville Journal, made a nationwide impact on the criminal justice system by advocating for Peter Reilly’s release and exoneration for the murder of his mother, Barbara Gibbons, from 1973-1977. Reilly had been convicted of manslaughter in Gibbons’ death, but partly because of the relentless persuasion of Bob Estabrook through editorials and news stories on the case, together with the support of other statewide and national leaders, the confession of Reilly while in custody of the Connecticut State Police was thrown out as evidence. See the book by the late Donald Connery, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” for the full picture of this renowned case.

The Estabrooks sold the newspapers to Robert Hatch in 1986. After they retired, they spent time traveling across country in their RV, visiting family, friends, other journalists and attending journalism conferences. Then, when Hatch needed to sell the newspapers in 1995, Bob Estabrook settled down again in Lakeville, finding other investors who were willing to join him in buying the papers and starting yet another era for the small-town publications. The Lakeville Journal Company LLC kept the publications going until now, when the company has applied to the IRS to change its status and become a nonprofit entity. 

Bob continued to write a column on local and national issues until the end of 2008, keeping his community informed on his thoughts about many different topics. He was known for his wisdom, kindness and extraordinary energy, plunging into hiking the entire region just as enthusiastically as a “Perambulator” as he did writing and volunteering. Then-state Sen. Andrew Roraback (now judge at Connecticut Superior Court) said at Estabrook’s passing, “When you look up ‘integrity’ in the dictionary, the definition begins with Bob Estabrook.” 

Bob would have been very proud that his beloved Salisbury Rotary Club was honoring his name by recognizing the interns at The Lakeville Journal. It brings together two things he highly valued: the spirit of Rotary and the enthusiasm of young budding journalists. Thank you to the Salisbury Rotary Club for creating the Bob Estabrook Intern Award, and for  keeping it going since 2014.

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