Kate Linder Y&R anniversary collage

Howard Wise/JPI; Jill Johnson/JPI; CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

“It would have been the biggest mistake of my life!”

It’s hard to imagine Genoa City, let alone the Chancellor mansion, without Esther… right? After all, Kate Linder has been playing the maid since April of 1982. But believe it or not, the actress almost took a pass on the role when first it was offered to her by The Young and the Restless‘ then-casting director, Tom Palmer.

“He said, ‘I have a part for you, but it’s so small, blink and you’ll miss it,’” Linder told Soaps.com during a recent chat. Although Palmer said he was looking for something bigger she might do down the line, she knew how the industry worked. “Usually, once you’ve appeared on a soap in one role, they don’t necessarily want you for something bigger. And this was just a one-day part.”

Or so everyone thought.

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“That was 39 years ago, and I’m still here,” she laughed. “Can you imagine if I’d turned it down? It would have been the biggest mistake of my life!”

Instead, it turned into the opportunity of a lifetime.

At the time, the character didn’t even have a name, she was simply the maid of the late Jeanne Cooper’s iconic Katherine Chancellor. “They kept calling me back,” recalled Linder, “and one day, during rehearsal, Jeanne called me Esther, and thankfully, I responded! After that, other characters referred to Esther, and the writers eventually began writing it into the scripts.”

Over the years, Esther’s been kidnapped, fallen in love and had a child, but the one story Linder always hoped might come to pass never did. “I always thought it might turn out that Katherine’s husband had an affair with a Vegas showgirl who got pregnant, and Esther was the result,” she shared. “Mrs. C knew — and that was why it sometimes felt as if they had a love/hate relationship — but Esther didn’t.”

Despite having appeared on the soap for nearly four decades, Linder still keeps her “day job” as a flight attendant. “One day I’m on the set, and the next I’m serving coffee at 35,000 feet,” she marveled. And yes, she’s sometimes recognized by passengers. In fact, years ago, Cooper became the first person at Young & Restless to learn about her co-star’s dual career when they wound up on a flight together!

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“I swore her to secrecy,” said Linder, “because I was afraid people at the show wouldn’t take me seriously as an actress if they knew about my other career!”

These days, when not flying around the country or bustling about Genoa City, the busy lady continues to be actively involved with numerous charities. “It’s so important to give back,” she said humbly. “Why wouldn’t I use the platform I’ve been given to help other people? All I’ve ever wanted to do is be an actress. I feel so fortunate that I get to not only do that but find ways to help other people.”

Now, join us in continuing the celebration of Linder’s 39 years in Genoa City by flipping through this photo gallery in which she shares stories about everything from life behind the scenes to some of her most cherished personal memories.