Esther Coopersmith

By | Apr 02, 2024

Moment mourns the passing of Esther Coopersmith, a dear friend of the magazine and of mine, and a 2018 recipient of Moment’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Esther Coopersmith was the powerhouse grand dame of Washington, DC. The salons and dinners she hosted in her magnificent S. St home were beloved, and many a sensible bipartisan solution was worked out over drinks in her living room. Major DC power players (among them presidents and vice presidents, senators, members of congress), ambassadors and diplomats from all over the world, journalists and young people new to the city attended her gatherings.

There were dinners, luncheons, book parties, fundraisers and, always, any event that supported the advancement of women. In the early days the women who attended them were mostly wives of ambassadors and government officials, but over the course of Esther’s lifetime, and often with her help, they became leaders and presidential candidates. 

I was one of many young women who came to DC who Esther took under her wing. She was an ardent champion of women and introduced me to a way of communicating beyond party or ideological barriers in what can be a very partisan town. I attribute some of my passion for refusing to put people and policies into boxes to Esther’s belief that everyone has something to contribute, that we learn more from kindness and generosity than from lecturing. From her, I learned the value of embracing complexity and creating a space to bring people together to change the world.

She generously held receptions and book parties in my honor and also, last summer, hosted an elegant dinner for the first cohort of our Moment Institute Middle East Fellows, a program designed to help journalists navigate the complexities of reporting on and from the Middle East. Wolf Blitzer, Susannah George, Robert Siegel, Tom Gjelten and many other journalists were in attendance.

Her unfailing warmth and strategic and pragmatic political savvy made her a powerhouse in Washington, and she and her home were an anchor through many tumultuous events and eras. Esther was a Washington institution in and of herself, and her death is a great loss at a time when the city and the nation are more polarized than ever. 

Despite being in her 90s and ill, Esther managed, with the help of her dear friend Jane Pitt, to keep bringing people together almost until she died. The last public event she attended was the March 16 Gridiron Dinner, her favorite annual event. She also hosted a Gridiron breakfast the following morning. All this from a girl raised in a small Midwestern town who for as long as I knew her was a kind, supportive and brainy strategic mentor to countless younger women, myself included. 




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