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Philanthropist and former Arizona Regent Esther N. Capin died Sunday, surrounded by her family. She was 78.

She died after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, said her son Jim Capin.

"She nurtured and guided each one of her children, and their children, towards individual successes," said her daughter Bonnie Dunnum.

Jim Capin said of his mother: "She instilled in us and others to pursue our education and to reach our highest potential.

"She personified the qualities of integrity, creativity, caring and community involvement."

Esther Capin served on the Arizona Board of Regents from 1978 to 1992, and was twice named its president, said her son.

She also served on the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners from 1976 to 1978, and was a founding member of the University of Arizona Health Center, serving on the center's board for 24 years, Jim Capin said.

He said his mother was born Esther Nathan in Chicago on Dec. 23, 1934, but was raised in Los Angeles.

She married businessman Richard L. Capin on Oct. 2, 1955. He came from a pioneer family that built a Nogales mercantile business into a chain of stores across the Southwest, said her son.

Richard L. Capin, who worked in the family business for about 40 years, became president of Capin Mercantile Corp., Jim Capin said.

As a philanthropist, among the causes Esther Capin supported were education, the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, the University of Arizona and the Jewish Federation for Southern Arizona, Jim Capin said.

He said his mother was supportive of the fine arts and bringing programs to Nogales Unified School District, and Stories that Soar to the Flowing Wells Unified School District.

She also helped found the Nogales Public Library, and was a founding member of the Santa Cruz County Family Guidance Center.

Esther Capin graduated with a bachelor's in psychology from the UA in 1977, and a master's in counseling and guidance in 1979, also from the UA.

She is survived by five children and 10 grandchildren.

Services are Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Temple Emanu-El at 225 N. Country Club Road.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or