Gloria Negri was preparing for a reporting trip to South Africa for The Boston Globe. Days before she was about to leave, she slipped on ice and broke her leg. A doctor told her the trip was out of the question.
Negri decided otherwise.
It was early 1975, a time when editors in US newsrooms were still reluctant to send women to the world’s trouble spots or let them report on complicated topics such as apartheid. Negri headed out and wore a cast for the first three weeks of an assignment that would take her from Parliament in Cape Town to the slums of Soweto, to interviews with government leaders, freedom fighters, banned people, and oppressed township dwellers.
“I knew I needed to go right away, or else they’d send someone else,” she recalled Thursday.
The story exemplifies the dedication that has marked the career of Negri, who leaves the Globe Friday after 53 years. And it sheds light on the determination of a trailblazing journalist who has reported many of the milestones of the past half-century; a determined reporter who refused to let anything stop her from getting a story.
‘There’s nobody who brought tears to as many eyes as Gloria.’
She accompanied Lady Bird Johnson on a whistle-stop tour as she worked for her husband’s presidential campaign in 1964, and that same year reported on a civil rights group that traveled to the South, where authorities used cattle prods against them.
She covered the Apollo 11 lunar landing and reported the aftermath of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, who was pinned underwater when Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s car swerved off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969.
She went on an early-morning training run with heavyweight champion boxer Joe Frazier before his 1971 “Fight of the Century” showdown with challenger Muhammad Ali.
She interviewed South Africa’s sole woman legislator, an opponent of apartheid, and a little-known South African bishop named Desmond Tutu.
When 2,700 people were killed in an earthquake in Italy in 1980, Gloria chronicled the disaster. She reported in 1995 about a state-run school in Massachusetts that helped disabled young people learn to live independent lives.
“There’s nobody who brought tears to as many eyes as Gloria,” said Walter V. Robinson, a former Globe Metro editor.
Her considerable reporting and writing talents earned Negri numerous accolades, including the Master Reporter award from the New England Society of Newspaper Editors. But Negri’s reporting career meant much more to her colleagues.
A graduate of Brown University who worked at several newspapers before joining the Globe in 1959, Negri was working the night shift when her editors, all men, huddled to discuss whether a woman could cover a homicide that had taken place in Chelsea. They sent her, and she got the story.
“All of the women in the newsroom owe a debt to Gloria for opening the door for them,” said Patricia Nealon, an editor on the Globe’s national-foreign desk. “She’s always been particularly proud that she was never relegated to what were euphemistically known as ‘the women’s pages.’ She opened up all of the pages of the paper for herself, and for all of us who followed.”
That enterprising spirit served Negri well during her various assignments.
Therese Anders, a longtime friend and a colleague during her South Africa assignment, recalled that Negri worked in the newsroom at an anti-
apartheid paper frequently raided by government spies.
“A lesser journalist would have cried off and headed home pretty soon or contented herself producing puff pieces,” Anders recalled. “But, to Gloria’s everlasting credit, she stayed the distance, producing some of the most insightful and influential reporting of that era.”
Brigitte Nacos, a Columbia University political science professor who was reporting for German publications when she met Negri in 1969 in Houston, when they were covering the lunar landing, recalled how the two talked their way into the training camps of Frazier and Ali before the 1971 fight.
“She’s an excellent journalist,” Nacos said. “And she was fun.”
Citing Negri’s decades of local reporting, Stephen Kurkjian, a retired investigative reporter and editor who worked at the Globe from 1968 to 2007, called her “a real treasure chest of history for Boston.”
As her colleagues praised her Thursday, Negri sought to deflect the attention. “Reporters shouldn’t be in the spotlight,” she said.
She seemed unconcerned about the historic sweep of her career. Informed that a search of the Globe archives found 4,252 stories by her, Negri deadpanned: “Is that a lot?”