Gloria Hardman died on August 25th from complications of Posterior Cortical Atrophy (Alzheimer’s) at the age of 81. She was an educator whose sharp mind was tempered by kindness and a gently irreverent sense of humor.
Born November 16, 1941, in Pretoria, South Africa, Gloria Dawn Webb was the third child of Leslie Ralph Webb (1904-1992) and Mona Beatrice Webb (née Schwegmann, 1909-2002). As Gloria often said, Mona “never moaned.” She radiated “cheerfulness, optimism and kindness.” Leslie was a mechanic, fixing adding machines, calculators, and typewriters. He also was a dessert enthusiast; Gloria credited him for her love of chocolate ice cream.
When she was 4, her cousins Betty and June noticed that Gloria wanted to attend school — just as her older brothers Terry (1934-2019) and Graham (1936-2015) did. They persuaded Mona to enroll her in Peter Pan, a tiny private school in their Durban neighborhood. Gloria was so adept a student that, in slightly over two years, she was already two grades ahead of her age.
Terry noticed that his sister was bright and inquisitive. Her parents would have been happy for her to take “domestic science,” but Terry insisted that she enroll in serious academic courses, including Latin and Math. Gloria so enjoyed tutoring her friends in Math that she decided to become a teacher.
At the age of 16, Gloria graduated as Dux (valedictorian) of Durban Girls High and enrolled in the University of Natal at Durban, pursuing degrees in Math and English. For the first time, she was not in a girls-only school. Each day, as she stepped into the large lecture hall for Math class, the boys greeted Gloria with foot-stomping and whistles.
Gloria ignored them. By the final semester of her degree, she — then the sole girl remaining in the class — won not only a First in Math, but the highest grade on the exam.
To repay the scholarship that funded her education, Gloria taught Math for two years in the Natal school system — first, at Pietermaritzburg Girls High, and then back at her alma mater, Durban Girls High.
In 1964, newlywed Gloria Nel accompanied her first husband Pierre Nel to London. As he pursued a Ph.D. in Chemistry, she realized that, as primary breadwinner, she needed to earn more than a teaching job would pay. She went to IBM, aced the aptitude test, assured interviewers that she was not planning to have a baby, and got the job. She began learning the ways of keypunch machines, verifiers, sorters, and the very latest in tabulation technology — IBM’s 421 Accounting Machine, a calculator larger than a contemporary washer-dryer.
After about 20 months, Gloria discovered that her male colleagues were being paid a lot more for doing the same job. She plucked up her courage and asked politely for a raise. Her boss responded, “You’re being well paid for a woman.” She left his office, searched the newspaper ads, and then left for a better-paying job as a programmer at the London Press Exchange, a market-research firm.
In 1968, Gloria and Pierre emigrated to the United States, bought a home in the Boston suburb of Lynnfield, and started a family — Philip (born 1969) and Linda (1971). She took her children to the local public library’s story hour, to the YMCA for swimming and trampoline classes, and she watched Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with them.
Gloria discovered her affinity for exercise in 1974, when — inspired by Mildred Cooper’s Aerobics for Women (1972) — she took up running competitively. She began taking and then teaching Jacki Sorensen’s Aerobic Dancing. She decided to run a marathon before she turned 40. And she did, running the Ocean State Marathon two weeks before her 40th birthday. Gloria liked to joke that she “finished on the same day,” but her time was a more-than-respectable 4 hours and 24 minutes.
Gloria’s compassionate pragmatism and the rise of the personal computer set her on a new trajectory. After the family acquired a TRS-80 in 1979, she first offered computer workshops at home, and then taught Lynnfield teachers and others in the town’s adult education program. In 1982, Gloria established Shore Country Day School’s Computer Department and ran it for two years (1982-1984) and ran Choate Rosemary Hall’s Computer Department for five years (1984-1989), while finding time to earn an MA from Wesleyan University (1988). After a few intervening years at IBM in Milford (1989-1993), she worked in Yale University’s Instructional Technology Group for twenty years (1994-2014).
Following Gloria’s move to Choate in 1984, she and Pierre divorced. In 1986 she met Jack Hardman (1927-2001) on a hike at Sleeping Giant State Park, and in 1988 they married. Gloria and Jack had a very happy twelve and a half years. His sense of humor complimented hers, and he loved her for who she was. They took up golf, enjoyed European and American travels, and had a lot of fun together. Gloria became a mother to his adult daughters Jake and Janet, and then a grandmother to their children.
After retiring to The Commons in Lincoln (Massachusetts) in 2014, she met Les Matson (1920-2019). Though they did not marry, he was her third partner. Gloria called him her Boy Scout because he always helped anyone who needed it, led their walks through the woods, and guided her through a world that — as her Posterior Cortical Atrophy (PCA) advanced — became increasingly difficult to navigate.
PCA (a rare variant of Alzheimer’s) erodes the brain’s capacity to make sense of what the eyes see. But not completely. Objects in motion remain legible. Hoping to sharpen her visual acuity, Gloria took up ping-pong, co-founding a Ping-Pong Club with Les and two other friends at The Commons.
As Gloria slid into the fog of Alzheimer’s, she retained her kindness and good humor. Even when she no longer knew people’s names, Gloria enjoyed company and still laughed at quotations from her favorite Monty Python sketches or joined in on favorite song lyrics. She spent her final year in a twilight haze, often asleep, capable of little (and then no) speech: but chocolate and visitors remained sources of delight.
She was an exemplary mother, a faithful friend, a devoted educator, a member in good standing of Chocoholics Anonymous, and a darn good ping-pong player. We will miss her.
Gloria is survived by her son Philip (Karin), daughter Linda (Michel), stepdaughters Jake (Dave) and Janet (Phil), granddaughter Emily, step-grandchildren Graeme and Madeleine and Kate, ex-husband Pierre, as well as cousins, nieces, nephews, other family, and many good friends.
— Philip Nel, with research assistance gratefully received from Linda Nel, Janet Blackman, and Jake Whalen
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to any of the following:
- Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research. Mass General Hospital group studying Alzheimer’s and PCA specifically. While living at The Commons, Gloria participated in their research.
- Girls Who Code (click “donate”). Organization dedicated to closing the gender gap in computing and in tech fields more generally.
- Brookline Robotics. Not strictly focused on girls but founded and run by a group of BHS young women.
- Rare Dementia Support. Support for people with rare dementia (including Posterior Cortical Atrophy), from the UK’s National Brain Appeal (“funding advances in neurology and neurosurgery”).
Read more about the remarkable Gloria:
- “‘Well-Paid for a Woman’: Gloria Hardman’s 50-Year Career in Computing” (IEEE: Annals of the History of Computing, 2 Sept. 2022). A career biography with far more detail than in the above.
- “Good Grief” (4 Nov. 2021). Gloria’s slow slog through Alzheimer’s has afforded us time to mourn and to reflect on grief. Here is what I’ve learned.
- “The Bright Side: #PlagueSongs, no. 3” (31 Mar. 2020). In which I sing Gloria’s favorite song, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
- “The Archive of Childhood, Part 3: Earliest Memories” (29 Aug. 2018). My earliest memories feature Gloria.
- “For Mom” (7 May 2016). Gloria was my first best friend. I shared this with her on Mother’s Day 2015. I decided to post it for Mother’s Day 2016.
- “Running Out of Time” (15 Jan. 2016). Written for my late friend Alison Piepmeier’s blog. The unnamed relative in the post is Gloria. Shortly after I posted it, she responded to my query saying that yes, of course, I could identify her. But, at the time, I decided to simply leave it anonymous.
Read more about Gloria’s family:
- Terry Webb (1934-2019), Gloria’s eldest brother
- John Webb (1768-1840), Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather
- Koenraad Claes, “Constructing authorial identities: A Suffolk Weaver Poet in the Lady’s Magazine” (The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre, 10 June 2015).
- Haverhill Town Council, “Who Lived Here?: The Thatches, Camps Road 1” (pdf). Includes photograph of likely birthplace of John Webb and his brother Barnabus (1760–1846).
- Conrade Manger Webb (1797 – 1874), John Webb’s son and Gloria’s great-great grand uncle
- WEBB, Conrade Manger (Suffolk Artists)