Gloria Negri ’49
On a whim, Gloria Negri ’49 would sometimes hop a plane to a place she’d never been—Bangkok or Cairo, Saigon or Singapore, or Guatemala alone on a Christmas Eve.
“My experiences have not all been pretty,” she once wrote. “On more occasions than I care to remember, I have arrived in foreign lands in the middle of the night with no hotel reservations.”
During 53 years at the Boston Globe, Negri, who died last December 10 at 91, watched countless historic moments unfold, always returning to write a well-told tale. She was at Cape Kennedy for the launch of the first moon landing and in South Africa when apartheid’s grip began to loosen. She was in Fenway Park when Ted Williams hit his last home run and in Hyannis as Rose Kennedy wept in church the day after John was assassinated.
Arriving at the Globe in 1959, when the few female reporters on the staff were relegated to soft feature assignments for what was then called the women’s pages, Negri insisted that she be sent out to cover news. Through her determination, she broke ground for generations of women who later joined the Globe.
“All the women in the newsroom owe her a debt of gratitude,” says Patricia Nealon, a friend and an editor at the Globe. “She really decided that all of the news pages would be open to her. All of us who followed, followed in her footsteps.” Janet Walsh, the Globe’s weekend editor, says, “I am grateful to Gloria as one of a very few women who waged battle every day decades ago in a very male newsroom to make their voices heard.”
Gloria Negri was born on November 23, 1926, in Providence, where her father, Philip Negri, was an Italian immigrant, a carpenter, and a mason. Her mother and namesake, the former Gloria Louise Tella, was hobbled by diabetes, though Negri would share with close friends her tender memory of dancing with her mother in the kitchen when she was a girl.
Her parents had both died by the time she entered Pembroke College. “I think she worked her way through,” says her longtime friend Loretta McCabe. “I’ve always thought of Gloria as being the exemplar of true grit, because that’s what she needed.”
Negri told friends that after a summer bicycling trip in Europe she took a slow route home because the college dorms weren’t open yet, and she would have no place to stay. “I stayed on several weeks more after the other members of my group flew home,” she wrote in 2000 about the experience, “exchanging my airline ticket with a stranger I met in Amsterdam for a trip home on a freighter. While I waited for the ship to leave, I slept in hostels and other less-than-luxurious emporiums for wanderers like myself. I had several proposals, not always of marriage.”
After graduation, she worked first at the Jewish Advocate and then at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, the New Bedford Standard-Times, and the Miami Herald, where she produced a feature story every day. (She was also required to sweep the Palm Beach bureau office every night.)
Along the way, Negri, who had no immediate survivors, remained close to a trio of college friends and, later, to the children of Globe colleagues who lived nearby, who considered her an aunt whose freezer always contained ice cream for them.
Stephen Kurkjian, a former Globe reporter and editor, says that as Negri regaled him with anecdotes about her reporting assignments, “I realized that she had covered the history of the end of the 20th century. It was always the same Gloria—notebook out, asking questions, getting as close as she could to where history was being made, whether it was in Vietnam or across the street from the Public Garden at The Ritz.”
On the event of the launch for the first moon landing in July 1969, she wrote “In daylight, standing a mere 1,500 feet from this big white behemoth that will take man to the moon, the overwhelming emotion is awe. The overwhelming urge is to pray … at dusk, as small lights round the spacecraft made it twinkle like a castle in fairyland, and again in the blackness of night, when floodlights cast Apollo 11 in a celestial halo.”
Rubbing shoulders with the Fenway faithful on September 28, 1960, while watching the Splendid Splinter’s last game, she noted that “Theodore S. Williams, baseball’s last angry man, the pride and sometimes the bane of the Sox, refused to tip his hat to the crowd throughout the game. ‘An individual to the end!’ a fan said in admiration.”
At the LBJ Ranch in October 1964, Negri was shown around in a station wagon by “a slender woman in bright pink slacks, silk blouse, and a pink chiffon scarf around her head.” Her driver was Lady Bird Johnson, the first lady. “The skin on her nose was beginning to peel from the Texas sun and there was a spring to her step that is restrained when she is in Washington,” Negri wrote. “The land is dear to Lady Bird Johnson, just as it was to the women who came West to settle years ago. And it is on the land that she can be most herself.”
Negri could cover an earthquake that killed thousands in Italy on one day and head off on vacation for her own adventure the next.
“As a longtime traveler,” she wrote, “I have always observed a few rules: Travel alone, travel lightly—just a knapsack, if possible—and never plan ahead.”
A longer version of this story was published in the December 12, 2017, Boston Globe.