Indispensable and unstoppable, Gloria Negri was at the heart of the Globe
There had been a shooting on the North Shore and as the all-male editors of The Boston Globe scanned their sparkling new newsroom on Morrissey Boulevard on that sleepy Saturday afternoon in the late 1950s, their options for quick coverage were slim.
The only reporter in sight was the new kid, a young woman fresh from the Miami Herald, a Brown University graduate named Gloria Negri. Surely they couldn’t send a woman to a grisly crime scene, could they?
And then Negri walked up to the city desk and said something she would repeat countless times over the next half century. “Send me,’’ she said.
When President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, lost their infant son in August 1963 it was an eternally sad story that required just the right touch. “Send me,’’ Gloria said.
When young women were turning up dead in their Boston apartments, strangled by a madman on the loose, the Globe dreamed up an idea that seems insane now. Let’s put a woman on a park bench in the South End as bait for the killer. “Send me,’’ Gloria said.
When men blasted off from Cape Kennedy, bound for the moon, somebody had to go to Florida to cover it. “Send me,’’ Gloria said.
Race riots. Apartheid. Chappaquiddick. Assassinations. Papal visits. Pennant fever at Fenway Park. Presidential campaigns. The theft of a bronzed duckling at the Public Garden. Hundreds of deftly written obituaries, carefully crafted stories now framed by grateful families across Eastern Massachusetts.
All of it — the work of a pioneering newspaper woman — now carefully tucked into yellowing scrapbooks beneath her bed, and preserved on microfilm for posterity. It is the legacy of a woman who dedicated her life to this newspaper.
I ask for your indulgence today as we pay tribute to one of our own. If you’re reading this, you were part of her extended family. The Boston Globe was in many ways Gloria’s home. Her living room. Her den. Her kitchen. The place where she grew up.
Gloria died on Sunday morning as a fresh blanket of snow covered a breathtaking hillside in Hingham outside her window and Christmas carols played softly in the background.
She was whip-smart, funny, feisty, stubborn, loyal, deeply appreciative of any kindness to come her way, and wonderfully absent-minded. She also was a poet at her keyboard. The woman could flat-out write. Lyrical.
She was a columnist for the old Evening Globe, a job shoehorned between regular assignments and coverage of breaking news. She would write late at night on her trusty Royal typewriter and — very early in the morning — summon Globe photographer Dan Sheehan to collect her copy and drive it to the Globe for publication that afternoon.
She was a world-class procrastinator. The woman simply could not — would not — make up her mind.
Here she is from a May 1973 Globe column headlined, so aptly, “Manana.’’
“A few years ago, I was invited to join some friends on a trip to Australia. I couldn’t make up my mind to go until an hour before the flight left Boston. The travel agency had to speed my ticket over by special delivery. When I got to Sydney, my friends had left three days earlier. Never did catch up with them, though I came close in Fiji.’’
In 1997, I became Gloria’s colleague and, in short order, her friend. We lived within a mile of each other. My kids mowed her lawn and shoveled her snow. And she would dote on them afterward with sweets and soft drinks. They learned that she appreciated the chores they did for her. But what she really loved was their company.
And what company it was.
Over Saturday afternoon beers at her kitchen table, the stories of Gloria’s life and career spilled out in delightful detail.
If you had pulled up a chair next to me, here’s some of what you would have heard.
She sipped whiskey at the LBJ ranch in Texas with Lady Bird Johnson, where her dress somehow got ripped and repair work was done with the help of LBJ’s daughters.
She spent a year in South Africa, once driving all night across bush country for an interview with Desmond Tutu.
She went on a morning run with Joe Frazier in 1971 when he was training for his titanic fight with Muhammad Ali.
She rode an elephant in the circus, rang the Salvation Army bell over a red kettle at Christmastime, followed Margaret Heckler to Dublin, flew to Northern Italy when a major earthquake struck, and had to be told to leave Saigon during the height of the Vietnam War.
“Gloria Negri wants to stay,’’ members of the Associated Press’s Saigon bureau wrote to their superiors in New York, who forwarded the message to Globe publisher Bill Taylor in Boston.
Taylor, who feared for her life, had a succinct reply: “No,’’ he wrote back.
So Gloria came back to Boston, much to the delight of her editors.
“I could send you out to cover clothes drying on a clothes line and you’d come back with a great story,’’ an editor once told her. It was a compliment any reporter would treasure. And she did.
Over the past 20 years, at doctor’s appointments with Gloria or during our long commutes to and from the South Shore, I marveled at the length and breadth of her career.
You can learn a lot about a person during times like those. I learned that Gloria first heard George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,’’ his 1924 musical composition, as a young girl while on a train heading for Boston. She loved it.
I learned that she once, with an old boyfriend, sneaked a shaker full of martinis into the bleachers at Fenway Park — not far from her beloved home on the “Fabulous Fenway.’’ It helped to cement her lifelong love of the Red Sox.
I learned that once, on assignment for the Globe, she interviewed Officer Obie on Main Street in Stockbridge. Obie is featured in the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant,’’ and that interview has always struck me as an emblem of Gloria’s far-flung, remarkable journalism career.
Even in the twilight of her 53-year Globe career, Gloria told me that she still could feel the competitiveness and the thrill of producing stories just as she had done as a kid fresh out of college.
“And when the presses are rolling at night, I still feel that tingle,’’ she said.
Gloria had a stock answer whenever I asked, as I did nearly every day, “How are you doing?’’
“Oh, I’m falling apart at the seams,’’ she would answer without fail.
It wasn’t true. Until it was.
When Gloria died the other morning, there was a beautiful picture of her beloved mother hanging on the wall over her bed.
Shortly before she drew her last breath, she sat up and seemed to reach for that picture.
“I want my mother,’’ she often told me in recent weeks.
And the image of that reunion gives me comfort — gives comfort to her entire Globe family — as we say goodbye to a Boston Globe original, my friend, the great Gloria Negri.