Nancy A. Gleason, 79, leader for Planned Parenthood

Mrs. Gleason was also an excellent violist for many years at Wellesley College.
Mrs. Gleason was also an excellent violist for many years at Wellesley College.

If there was a committee of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts that Nancy Aub Gleason did not chair at some point since the late 1970s, no one can remember.

“She has done, I think, virtually every job in the whole place,” said Nonnie Burnes, who chairs the organization’s board, one of many positions once filled by Mrs. Gleason. “She has just been an amazing contributor in just every way: an adviser, a counselor, a leader. She really was kind of the heart and soul of Planned Parenthood.”

A social worker whose career spanned decades of vast changes for women in the work place and the accompanying court decisions that affected everything from sports to reproduction, Mrs. Gleason had also worked for many years at Wellesley College’s Stone Center Counseling Service.


There she helped develop a program using student-acted theater vignettes to offer approaches to social situations, particularly those involving drinking, which counseled women on ways to avoid alcohol abuse and date rape.

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Mrs. Gleason, who also was a longtime violist, bringing family and friends together over the years to perform chamber music, died of a brain hemorrhage June 5 in Massachusetts General Hospital. She was 79, had lived in Beacon Hill for many years, and kept a vacation residence in Francestown, N.H.

Dianne Luby, former president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said of Mrs. Gleason that “no matter what you did, she would be there to encourage you and tell you, ‘a job well done,’ but she’d also pick up the phone and say: ‘You need to have a firmer background on this.’ ”

In an e-mail passing the news of Mrs. Gleason’s death to colleagues, Martha “Marty” Walz, the organization’s current president and chief executive, called her “a role model for me and for countless others.”

“Her gentle voice and calm demeanor might fool those who didn’t know her, but she spoke with wisdom born from experience and lived her life with a fierce resolve to pursue what she believed to be right,” Walz wrote. “I listened to her carefully and knew to follow her advice. She never steered me in the wrong direction. I will miss her personally, and Planned Parenthood has lost a remarkable champion for women’s health.”


Mrs. Gleason joined the organization’s board in 1978 and chaired it from 1987 to 1991, when the organization presented her with its Campbell-Faulkner Award. She also formerly served on the board of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

“She was a networker, fund-raiser, educator, social worker, organizer, marcher, leader,” Nicki Nichols Gamble, former president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, said in a statement in Walz’s e-mail. “No task was too menial or too large for her fortitude and imagination.”

In Mrs. Gleason’s various roles “you always knew when she was there, but she was never overbearing,” Burnes said. “It was really wonderful to work with her because she was always trying to make sure that you had the opportunity to do what you would find interesting to do.”

Mrs. Gleason also was a senior fellow and former board member of the Salzburg Global Seminar, which brings together well-known intellectuals to exchange ideas.

“Nancy is an irreplaceable member of the Salzburg Seminar community, constant in her love for the place and its work and for rising leaders committed to public service,” Stephen Salyer,the organization’s president, said in a tribute on the seminar’s website. “Nancy asked penetrating questions, often with a twinkle in her eye. Nothing about her was half-hearted, including her warm smile and encouragement during challenging periods. We will miss her profoundly.”


Nancy Aub grew up in Belmont, the youngest of three sisters. Her father was a professor at Harvard Medical School. Her mother had an architecture degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but only designed houses for friends and made models for firms.

“She could have been a pro in her own right, but that was not the way of the world,” said Mrs. Gleason’s husband, Herbert, who was corporation counsel in the administration of Mayor Kevin White of Boston. “She was a woman of immense talent, and I think it may have influenced Nancy that her mother’s talent was never put to use.”

Mrs. Gleason graduated from The Cambridge School of Weston and spent two years at Barnard College in New York before finishing an anthropology degree at Radcliffe College, graduating in 1956. While at Barnard, she spent a summer in Arizona on the Navajo reservation and switched schools to major in anthropology.

She also graduated from Simmons College with a master’s in social work and, before Wellesley, worked as a counselor at a mental health center in Brookline and at Pine Manor College.

She met Herbert Gleason at a party in fall 1956. “I was just smitten,” he recalled. They married in 1958.

The couple had a “wonderful life,” he said. “We had complete confidence in each other. We really were in sync with everything that mattered, whether it was the family or whether it was politics or reproductive rights, or the city. It was just amazing.”

The Gleasons “were really a genuine team,” said former US representative Barney Frank, a longtime friend of the couple. “She was strong and constructive, a major force in the city, totally at home in the mix of Boston politics, pushing for good stuff. She was a wonderful contributor to try to make this a better city.”

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Gleason leaves a daughter, Alice of New York City; a son, David, of Jamaica Plain; and two grandsons.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. July 12 in Boston’s Arlington Street Church, of which Mrs. Gleason was a member and where she celebrated her 70th birthday.

“She had about 30 of her musician pals all come and they played Brandenburg concertos all afternoon,” her husband said.

Among the many panels on which Mrs. Gleason served was the board of trustees for the Composers Conference & Chamber Music Workshops at Wellesley College, where she joined in with the musicians.

“She was a very enthusiastic musician and very knowledgeable,” said Anne Carter, a cellist and longtime friend who is a Brandeis University professor emeritus and former dean of the faculty. “She really knew the chamber music literature.”

Mrs. Gleason, she said, was “a wonderfully loyal, supportive, empathic friend. She just really caught on to where you were and what you wanted, and was generous beyond belief. And she did it unobtrusively. ”

“She knew how to be generous,” Carter said. “Some people can be heavy-handed, but she could be generous in a gracious way.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached