The Gloria Hardman Fan Club: Proceedings of Our September Meeting

Yesterday, select members of the Gloria Hardman Fan Club gathered in Concord Massachusetts to pay tribute to the object (subject?) of our fandom. In the interests of sharing lessons from a life well-lived, we are pleased to present the proceedings, in full, via this video, expertly livestreamed by Mr. Dan Seminatore. The event begins at 3 minutes in.

In order of speaking:

  • Philip Nel, the GHFC’s Social Media Manager, Troubadour, and one of its Global Outreach Coordinators
  • Linda Nel, the GHFC’s Event Planner, Chief Budget Officer, and another of its Global Outreach Coordinators
  • Janet Blackman, Executive Co-Chair of the GHFC’s Jack Hardman Division
  • Dave Whalen, Chair of local GHFC Affiliate & Fire Department Liaison
  • Pam Patterson, 2023 Winner of GHFC’s Professional Legacy Award
  • Trip Kirkpatrick, Senior Archivist and Customer Support Specialist in the GHFC’s New Haven Office
  • Doug Matson, Distinguished Chair of the GHFC’s Les Matson Division
  • Matt Regan, Head Walker, GHFC’s Strolling Initiative
  • Yoshi Maruyama, Senior Linguist and General Manager of the GHFC’s Golf League (Eagle Division)

Special bonus content for our loyal readers — an illustrated version of the tribute from the event’s MC, a.k.a. the son of the organization’s esteemed namesake. In other words: Me.

9 Things I Learned from Gloria

Philip Nel

Since Gloria spent most of her professional career as an educator, I — as an educator myself and as a tribute to my favorite mother — will share 9 things that I learned from Gloria during the 54 years of our acquaintance.

1. Do not skip dessert. Preferably have something chocolate. Chocolate ice cream. Chocolate cake. Chocolate brownies. Or—cut out the middleman—and just have chocolate on its own. Dark chocolate was Gloria’s favorite. But you— you should have whatever dessert is your favorite.

2. Exercise regularly. And not just because exercise will burn the calories from all that dessert you’ve been eating. But because, as Gloria liked to say, exercise helps “keep the moving parts moving.” And after you’ve exercised, you feel good. (Afterwards. Not always during.)

She’d also tell you it’s never too late to start exercising. She started in her early 30s, teaching Aerobic Dancing, going jogging—even running a marathon before she turned 40. And then hiking, golfing, walking, and finally—at The Commons—playing ping-pong.

3. Think critically. When Gloria was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, South African society did not value girls’ education as highly as boys’ education. But her older brother Terry noticed that his little sister was bright and inquisitive. He encouraged her to think critically. She did. Though her parents would have been happy for her to take “domestic science,” Terry insisted that she enroll in serious academic courses, including Latin and Math. She did that, too.

4. Persist. And don’t let anyone tell you what you “can’t” do. Having graduated Durban Girls High at the top of her class at the age of only 16, Gloria 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. Her first-year Math class had about a hundred students, but only 5 girls total. The other girls arrived early and sat together in front. Gloria—coming from her English class some distance away—would step into this large, tiered lecture hall just minutes before the class started. Each day, the boys greeted her with “some foot stomping, whistles and calls to ‘sit here – there’s room for you.’” As she recalled, the experience was “more than a little intimidating and today it would be classified as harassment but back then (1957) that was just the way it was.”

But she persisted. And prevailed. By her final year, she was the sole girl remaining in Math. At the end of the term, Gloria aced the exam, receiving the highest mark in the class — surpassing all the boys.

5. Keep your sense of humor.  As Gloria liked to say, “If you can’t see the funny side of life, you might as well just pack it in.” You know, even as Posterior Cortical Atrophy—the rare variant of Alzheimer’s that Gloria had—even as that was eroding her cognition and unraveling her memory, she somehow managed to keep her sense of humor.

Talking with her via Skype in June of 2020, she told me, “I’m good at forgetting. You have something you need to forget? I’ll forget it for you.”

I laughed and said, “Forgetting is like your superpower.”

She laughed and agreed: “Forgetting is my superpower,” she said.

6. The greatest gift is the gift of your attention. This may be her actual superpower. When Linda and I were little children, our favorite activity was “Special Time.” Now, what is “Special Time”? you may ask. Well, a few times a week, for 15 minutes or half an hour, Gloria would grant each of us, individually, her undivided attention, doing whatever her child wanted to do. Perhaps that would be reading a story with me. Or playing a board game with Linda. Or drawing a picture. Gloria let us decide.

And that was “Special Time.” The gift of her attention.

7. Believing in others helps them believe in themselves. In one of his last interviews, the actor Gene Wilder said, “When your mother gives you confidence about anything that you do, you carry that confidence with you.” That resonated with me so strongly because that’s exactly what Gloria did for me. She saw something in her shy, insecure son—believe it or not, I used to be shy and insecure. She saw something in me that I did not always see in myself. She believed in me and, in so doing, she taught me to believe in myself.

8. Love. What I’m saying, I guess, is that Gloria knew how to love. She loved me into being, and into becoming the person I am now. Your presence here today indicates that her love touched your lives, too. And that is very powerful. Because what survives when those who love us leave us? What survives is love. Your presence here is further evidence of that, and I appreciate it.

Which brings me to my final lesson from Gloria.

9. Let people know you appreciate them. Indeed, if Gloria could speak to us right now, I bet she’d say exactly that.

Well, first she’d say, “I’m sorry I can’t be with you today.” (Because even a ghostly Gloria would retain her sense of humor.) And then after that she’d say, “It’s so nice to be appreciated.”

And I would say, “Mmm. Though nicer still if you were also alive.”

She’d say, “Well, better late than never.”

I’d say, “And you are quite literally … late.”

We would roll our eyes and make a face at the pun.

Then I’d say, “Though, after a lifetime of always being on time,…”

She’d finish, “… you can give me a break for being late to my own funeral?”

I’d say, “Of course!”

She’d say, “Thank you.” And then: “Now… where’s the chocolate?”

And… scene.

Note: Afterwards, I was asked when Linda and I started referring to our mother as “Gloria.” I think it began roughly around the time that she married Jack. My memory of the reasoning is that, since she was not the biological mother of Jake and Janet, it made more sense to call her “Gloria” in that context. That said, it also made sense in just about all contexts: she was “Gloria” to her friends and other members of the family. Indeed, in addition to being our mother, Gloria was also our friend. And so we called her “Gloria.”

I mention this because calling her “Gloria” has for decades been 100% normal to all of us—including Gloria, of course! But we do realize that not everyone refers to their parents by their first names.

Songs for Gloria

The above playlist is of the music (played in the background) prior to and after the speeches in the above video. All are instrumental versions (so that they wouldn’t compete with conversation). Many songs are particular favorites of hers. She loved Flanders & Swann, Oscar Peterson (& piano jazz more generally), Monty Python, George Formby, Beethoven, boogie-woogie piano (the walking bass!), & numbers.

The playlist below is of songs that, even as PCA eroded her memory, Gloria would still sing along to. So: lyrics included! I assembled it for her during my March 2020 visit. Her eldercare facility went into lockdown when I was visiting. I realized that it might be some time until I saw her in person again. So, I set up a Spotify account for her and made her this.

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:


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