On Monday, February 26, 2018, shortly before noon, our beloved partner and mentor, Diane Esser, died at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. She was 69 years old. The cause of death was acute myelogenous leukemia.
A prominent, widely respected attorney, Diane was a resident of Greenfield, Massachusetts and Coral Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands. She and her twin sister, Donna, were born in Boston on October 6, 1948 to Ernest and Eunice (Kimball) Gonyer. As a single mother, she attended Greenfield Community College, where she met her husband of 47 years, Wilson Roberts. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Diane studied law at Boston University. Bar card in hand, she returned to Greenfield, and teamed up with Marguerite Dolan, another pioneering and powerful female lawyer in the Valley.
As a first-year associate, Diane became lead counsel for petitioners in a “right to die” case that had been called to trial while Attorney Dolan was away, climbing Mt. Everest. Diane prevailed at trial and, ultimately, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the trial court order to withdraw treatment, based on the concept of “substituted judgment” for incapacitated persons. In Re Spring remains a cornerstone of mental health and elder law in Massachusetts.
Several years later Diane opened her own office on Main Street in Greenfield, which grew to become the firm Esser, Singer, Eisenberg, Wainstein and Berlin. More recently she was senior partner of Esser & Kingston. At the time of her death she was the senior partner in Esser Kent P.C.
Diane was an active and prominent member of the Franklin County Bar and the Massachusetts Bar Associations. In 1990, she was appointed by Paul J. Liacos, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, to his Commission on the Future of the Courts. In 1992 the Commission’s report, Reinventing Justice, 2022, made a number of suggestions, one of which resulted in Franklin County’s Restorative Probation program. Other ideas put forth in the report ultimately led to the envisioning of Massachusetts’ courts as multi-faceted justice centers where people can find help navigating the increasingly complex justice system. The recently opened Franklin County Justice Center is a model example of the Commission’s farsighted recommendations.
For those with troubled marriages Diane Esser was widely regarded as the go-to lawyer. Even ex-spouses of clients came to her for advice and help as their second and third marriages began to fall apart.
Diane’s love was loyal, fierce and all-embracing, a source of strength, pride, support, cheer and, ultimately, consolation to her survivors: Wilson Roberts of Greenfield, her husband of 47 years; her sister Pamela Gonyer of Greenfield; brother Bradford and his wife Jacqueline Gonyer of Taunton; five sons and a daughter: Wesley Esser of Somerville, Charles Roberts and Sandra Staub of Greenfield, Benjamin Roberts and Lisa Henry of Ashfield, Micah and Rachel Roberts of Greenfield, David and Melissa Roberts of Shelburne Falls, and Leah and Jay Daily of Leesburg, Virginia; her deeply and openly adored grandchildren Madelene Roberts, Joseph Roberts, Jacob Roberts, Emily Roberts, Charlotte Roberts, Sebastian Roberts, Henry Daily, and her newly acquired grand-daughters, Billy and Grace Lada; her sister-in-law Mary Roberts Hunter and her husband David of Newtown, Pennsylvania and Pass-a-Grille Florida; her niece Dominique Gonyer and her partner Kriss Gil of Brookline; her nephew Paul and his wife Katelyn Gonyer of Bedford; great-nieces and nephews Henry, Ingrid, Derek, Charleigh and Cole; numerous cousins. In addition, Diane had so many loyal friends who were adjunct members of her family that there is not enough space or time to list them here.
Diane was at her happiest with Wil and other family members and friends at her homes in Greenfield and St. John, giving dinner parties, putting up with Wil’s performances at open mics, gardening, luxuriating on the beach, walking park trails and simply breathing warm summer and tropical air. She did not appreciate winter.
Through the window at her bedside as she took her final breaths, one could see early traces of spring on newly open spots of bare ground, surrounded by birches and maples. The sun-filled sky was clear and blue. Filled with beauty and warming air, it was the kind of day Diane loved. If she had to go from this world at the end of her fight against a virulent leukemia, there is a touch of comfort that it was on such a day the magnificent Diane Esser left us forever.
Diane Esser is also remembered for her dedication to her community in The Greenfield Recorder.
The Law Office of Esser Kent has a long history in Franklin County. Attorney Diane Esser began a general legal practice in Greenfield in 1979, which by 1985 had become the firm of Esser, Eisenberg, Wainstein, and Berlin. Recognized across Massachusetts for her expertise and leadership, Attorney Esser served as a trustee of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and on the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Bar Association, she was a panelist and teacher for MCLE (Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education) and MBA (Massachusetts Bar Association).
In 1990, Attorney Esser was appointed by the Chief Justice Liacos of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to develop a plan to bring the state courts into the 21st century. Along with former Judge Tom Merrigan, Attorney Esser created a community dialogue and recommendations that resulted in the adoption of many new and innovative approaches to justice in the community. Over time, these recommendations have been adopted throughout the Commonwealth, in the form of restorative justice and the creation of comprehensive justice centers, as two examples.
In 2011, Attorney Lisa G. Kent, a former litigator with Lesser, Newman & Nasser in Northampton, joined the law firm. Attorney Kent, who is also a mediator and guardian ad litem, was recently appointed the liaison between the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Courts and the probate bar of Franklin County. She is a member of the Franklin County Bar Association Executive Committee.
LISA G. KENT graduated from Douglass College, Rutgers University in 1984 and earned her J.D. from the Rutgers University School of Law – Newark in 1992. She practiced law in New Jersey, served as deputy counsel to the NJ State Legislature and was legal counsel to a utility economics consulting firm before moving to Massachusetts in 2001.
Attorney Kent came to specialize in domestic relations after years of practicing civil rights, personal injury, and commercial litigation. To learn what inspires her work, see “Why I Practice Family Law.”
She now concentrates her practice in contested divorce, child custody, and paternity matters. She is a trained mediator and conciliator and a certified Category F Guardian ad litem in child custody matters. Estate planning, guardianships, and adoptions are among the services she provides to clients.
Prior to joining Attorney Esser, Kent was a litigator with Lesser, Newman & Nasser in Northampton, Massachusetts, and was a staff attorney with the Student Legal Services Office at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Attorney Kent is on the Executive Committee of the Franklin County Bar Association, where she is on the Continuing Legal Education, Parent Education and Courthouse Art committees. She was appointed by the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court to represent Franklin County as a liaison to the Probate and Family Court. She is a frequent “Lawyer for the Day” in Hampshire and Franklin Probate and Family Courts, and has taught continuing legal education workshops in the field of child custody and electronic/digital discovery rules. She volunteers for the Senior Partners for Justice and the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
When not at work or answering emails, she enjoys gardening and swimming, and completing her training to be a certified yoga instructor.
HILARY A. SULLIVAN graduated from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst in 2011 with a B.A. in Political Science and earned her J.D. from Western New England University School of Law in 2015.
While attending the University of Massachusetts, Hilary was a Counselor/Advocate at the Everywoman’s Center, which is now known as the Center for Women and Community. She also interned for UMass Student Legal Services in 2011. While in law school, she was a paralegal for Crevier & Ryan, LLP in Springfield, and also interned for Community Legal Aid and the Hampshire Probate and Family Court. After graduating from law school, Hilary clerked for the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court. She currently focuses her practice on divorce, custody, elder law matters, estate planning, and landlord-tenant disputes. She is licensed to practice in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Hilary is a fourth-generation resident of the Pioneer Valley. She is a member of the Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden County Bar Associations.
In her spare time, she participates in local road races, charity bicycle rides with her father Ed, and can be found hiking with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Stevie.
JENNIFER MULLINS (Paralegal) graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2000 and earned her J.D. from Western New England University in 2004.
Jennifer appreciates the sensitive area of Domestic Relations law and has assisted attorneys in this field in Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin Counties for over ten years. Jennifer’s depth of experience allows her to put clients at ease during stressful times.
When not at Esser Kent, Jennifer enjoys hiking, being in her garden, spending time with her animals and volunteering with the Pioneer Valley 4-H.
LAURIE L. LUCIER (Office Manager/Bookkeeper) graduated from Springfield Technical Community College in 1984, where her studies focused on Business Management. She has worked as an Assistant for the Victim/Witness Unit of the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office and as an Assistant for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Northampton District Court Office. She has been with the firm since 2013.