Gloria Hardman (1941-2023)

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.

photo of Gloria Webb, Dux of Durban Girls' High, 1957
Gloria Webb, Dux of Durban Girls’ High, South Africa, 1957

        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.

Photo of Gloria Webb, Natal University graduate, 1961.
Gloria Webb, Natal University graduate, Durban, South Africa, 1961

        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.

At center of photo, my mother. Around her, ten men. Location is IBM in London, 1966.
Gloria Nel at IBM in London, 1966

        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.

photograph of Linda Nel, Gloria Nel, Philip Nel, just before Gloria ran the Bonne Bell Mini Marathon, 1977.
Gloria, just before running the Bonne Bell Mini Marathon. Also pictured: her children Linda and Philip. Oct. 1977. This was the race’s first year. It is now The Boston 10K for Women.

        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.

photo of Gloria and Jack Hardman, Boston, Sept. 1996. Gloria is laughing.
Gloria and Jack Hardman, Boston, Sept. 1996.

        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

photo of Gloria and her granddaughter Emily, 2015.
Gloria and her granddaughter Emily, 2015.

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:

Read more about Gloria’s family:


  1. Neda


    Such an inspiring woman!
    Thanks, Phil, for sharing this.. How the world needs such passionate, determined, kind & caring humans more.. How I wish I had met her. Oh, Phil, I believe you need to write a book, a biography on her life. Am positive that so many people would learn from her life story..

    May she rest in peace..

    • Reply

      Thanks, Neda! I am touched that you took the time to read and respond. I do hope to carry her good example forward, and I would be delighted if others did, too.

  2. Janifer Pearl


    Dear Phil, Thanks for this great piece of biography, you invite us all to discover new parts of Gloria’s life. Our relationship spanned 2 decades and Gloria became our friend in her own right, beyond just Linda’s mother. She was lovely, gentle, fun, non-judgmental, and as you underscore, she was super clever (but so modest with it). I salute you and Linda for the way you cared, helped and stood by Gloria as she slipped so quickly from independence and hovered so long in the twilight. My deepest sympathies, Janifer

    • Reply

      A belated thanks for your kind note, Janifer. I am delighted, too, that people can discover new parts of Gloria’s life. She was indeed all that you say: lovely, gentle, fun, supportive, and clever (but modest). Thanks again.

  3. yoshiko maruyama


    Many condolences. She helped me with my computer problems with patience at Yale. Also she was my golf buddy. When I see her under any circumstances she had a twinkle in her eyes, always.

  4. Donna Anderson


    Dear Phil,
    I do hope you receive this. My deepest condolences go to you and Linda at the loss of your mother. I had lost touch with her over the last decade or so, unfortunately. I only knew she was happily married to Jack and he has passed away. I certainly never knew about her illness. I’m so sadden that such a brilliant, kind woman could succomb to such a dreadful disease!
    I can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for you and Linda to watch her deterioration.
    She was a mentor and a dear, loyal, friend to me.
    Not a mentor for math or computers! I was useless at both! No, a mentor for Aerobic Dancing! She dragged me around Lynnfield running to gain my fitness and our tongues wagged faster than our feet moved! She was always so encouraging and I got great joy in getting to know her. Aerobic Dancing improved not only my fitness and figure but my self confidence and belief in my talents!
    Phil, I read every word of the obituary and the biographical article on your mother’s education and career development in computers! She was a remarkable woman!
    Little one would know of her incredible expertise from her!! I just knew that she was an amazing aerobic dancing instructor who struggled like myself to “weigh in” several times a year to keep our jobs!! And when I said,”I can’t!”, she said,”Oh, yes you can!”
    I stumbled on all of this information as a result of your note on Doug Russell’s obituary page.
    When I realized who you were (Gloria’s son, Phil!)I knew I had to try to connect with you! I’m so grateful that you mentioned your Mom’s passing in that note!
    Please extend my sympathies to Linda as well. I wish you both comfort and peace and that my good friend, Gloria now rests in peace.

    • Reply

      A belated thanks for this, Donna! Had I your contact information, I would have invited you to Gloria’s Celebration of Life (which you can find in the subsequent blog post). I was able to reach Loretta, who came with her husband Paul.

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