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”).

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