Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File
On a whim, Gloria Negri 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.”
That taste for adventure in her free time was perhaps an extension of her appetite for newspaper reporting. In 53 years at the Globe, she 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.
“During the solemn requiem Mass for her son, she lifted the veil over the brim of her high-crowned hat,” Ms. Negri wrote, “but it fell often as Rose Kennedy removed her glasses to wipe tears from her eyes.”
Ms. Negri, who was 91 when she died Sunday, had lived in Scituate for many years, though she had made the entire world her home while writing about momentous events and those quiet moments that would be lost to memory but for her keen reporting.
“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,” she wrote on the eve of the July 1969 launch. From her vantage point she gazed admiringly “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 Sept. 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.”
Reporting from South Africa in 1975, “she went for broke” when scheduling interviews with “government leaders, freedom fighters, banned people, oppressed township dwellers, privileged Afrikaners, boere (farmers), tribal chiefs,” her friend Therese Anders of New Zealand wrote in a tribute for Ms. Negri’s 50th anniversary as a Globe reporter.
“From parliament in Cape Town, to the slums of Soweto and the deserts of the Kalahari – she travelled the country seeking answers for Globe readers,” wrote Anders, a reporting colleague of Ms. Negri’s in South Africa in the mid-1970s.
At LBJ Ranch in October 1964, Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.”
Stephen Kurkjian, a former Globe reporter and editor, said that as Ms. 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.”
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, Ms. 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,” said 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, “was perpetually amazed by Gloria – by her wonderful, quirky ways and her funny, lightning-quick wit, by her intense determination to nail a story and her elegant way of writing it. And most of all 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.”
Ms. Negri “told me that early on in her career she made a decision that she would always say yes when an editor approached her with a story assignment,” said Mary Jane Wilkinson, a friend and former managing editor for newsroom administration. “She saw the challenge and adventure of taking on any assignment.”
Challenges had always been part of Ms. Negri’s life. She was born on Nov. 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 Ms. 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, the women’s college for Brown University (they merged under one name in 1971). “I think she worked her way through,” said her longtime friend Loretta McCabe. “I’ve always thought of Gloria as being the exemplar of true grit, because that’s what she needed.”
Ms. 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. In publishing the anecdote, though, she nudged emotions aside in deference to adventure. “I stayed on several weeks more after the other members of my group flew home, exchanging my airline ticket with a stranger I met in Amsterdam for a trip home on a freighter,” she wrote in 2000. “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 graduating she began her career with a stint at the Jewish Advocate, followed by reporting jobs at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, the New Bedford Standard-Times, and the Miami Herald, where she produced a feature story every day — and also was required to sweep the Palm Beach bureau office every night.
From college to the Globe, she formed fast friendships that came to define her. Ms. Negri, who leaves no immediate survivors, remained close to a trio of college friends. Later on, with the children of Globe colleagues who lived nearby, she was an adopted aunt who kept a ready store of ice cream in the freezer.
“There was another side of Gloria outside the Globe newsroom – a funny and inquisitive woman who my kids got to know as they shoveled her snow, cut her grass, and sat at her kitchen table drinking root beer,” said Globe columnist Thomas Farragher. “She became, without exaggeration, part of my family.”
Calling hours for Ms. Negri will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday in Richardson-Gaffey Funeral Home in Scituate, with a memorial service at 11.
She had always treated the newsroom as her real home, and treated colleagues to her “slightly idiosyncratic” ways, Globe editor Brian McGrory wrote when she retired in 2012. “When she sneezes, which is oddly often, windows rattle across Dorchester. She used to crawl under her desk to make especially sensitive calls.”
Her honors included a Master Reporter award from the New England Society of Newspaper Editors, but there really was no trophy suitable to celebrate the daring of someone who 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.”
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