Gloria Talcove Woodward was truly larger than life, dancing and laughing through the world with boundless energy and a free-spirited soul. She passed away peacefully on February 13, 2018. Living every day to its fullest, she spread her exceptional good cheer and sunny optimism to everyone she met.
In 1949 Gloria was born in New York City’s borough of Staten Island. She spent her childhood in the New Dorp neighborhood, which she remembered as a magical, idyllic beachside community. She was raised in rented bungalows under humble circumstances with loving parents, Louis and Lorraine Talcove, whom she adored. When Gloria was 12, her beloved sister Lois was born. Gloria helped raise “Baby Be-ho” like her own daughter.
Growing up on Staten Island, “Glo” cultivated an inimitable comedic style from her older brother Freddie, her extended, fun-loving family, and the Italian, Irish, Jewish and other characters she encountered around her neighborhood. Her relatives called her the “personality girl.” Throughout Gloria’s life, her humor was peppered with Yiddish phrases and old-world witticisms that brought delight to all who encountered her non-stop “schmoozing” and “gallivanting.”
Gloria was ever-curious and inquisitive, always striving to learn about everything around her. Her affinity for nature was inspired by long, carefree days playing on the local beach as a child.
As a teenager during the 1960s, Gloria developed a passion for literature, music, and art. In her last written words, she wrote that the arts give “an opportunity to let youth experience their potential.” They “increase understanding among people, thereby increasing respect and peace among the citizenry.” “The arts,” she wrote, “give a voice to the voiceless and a choice to the choice-less.”
A beautiful “brown-eyed girl” with a billion-dollar smile, the forever-young Gloria was in some respects a late-bloomer. Without financial support to attend college, she went to work on Wall Street as a secretary immediately after graduating from high school. Her modest wages helped her parents buy their first house. In her early 20s she moved to Santa Monica, California and worked for Twentieth Century Fox. Around Santa Monica, she volunteered to support environmental and social/economic justice causes.
Maturing in her mid-20s, Gloria discovered she was smarter than her bosses and decided to work her way through college. She returned to New York City and enrolled in Hunter College. She first studied political science, geology, and art history while laboring as a secretary so that she could afford to attend school at night.
In 1979, she met her future husband, Doug Woodward, while living in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. Gloria was an unrepentant vegetarian and one of the original members of the Park Slope Food Coop. In Brooklyn, she continued her political activism, driven to advance world peace, spread human rights, and protect the environment.
In 1981, she moved to Austin, Texas, where she and Doug were married. She enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Texas and worked for the renowned physicist John Archibald Wheeler. In 1982, Gloria and Doug had their first child, Christopher, who was delivered at home by midwives in Austin. Even while raising an infant son and operating with no more than a few hours of sleep each night, she went to school full-time, majoring in Spanish literature and political science. Gloria graduated with a BA from the University of Texas summa cum laude in 1986, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the most prestigious academic honor society in the United States. She remained a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa for the rest of her life.
In 1986, Gloria relocated with her family to Poughkeepsie, New York, and worked briefly as managing editor for a Spanish literature journal at Vassar College. The next year the family moved to Columbia, South Carolina. In 1987, Gloria’s second son, Andy, was born.
Soon after the birth of Andy, Gloria obtained her certification to teach Spanish in South Carolina’s public schools. With her fluency and mastery of Spanish grammar, she started a career teaching Spanish in middle school and then at Irmo High School. Gloria obtained a master’s degree in Spanish from the University of South Carolina. “Senora Talcove” was an unforgettable teacher, with her own unique style. Her widespread impact on her students was evident in the outpouring of testimonials on social media after her passing. One parent wrote: “Everyone loved Gloria Talcove! She will always be remembered for her unending devotion to her profession and her unfailing support of each and every student she knew, particularly to those who were considered to be members of marginalized groups.”
In 2008, Gloria sponsored the first viable High School Gay/Straight Alliance in South Carolina. She encountered resistance from some in the school and the community, but she persevered, believing it was morally imperative to stand up for the rights and dignity of all her students.
In Columbia, Gloria was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, serving as president in 1994- ‘95. Her eclectic, hilarious, and inspirational talks before the congregation were legendary.
Gloria retired from teaching after 24 years, and in retirement, she turned to writing fiction and poetry, much of which can be found on her blog, the Talcove Fiction Faction. She spun poetry, raps, and rhymes. She made earrings and handbags. She gave free haircuts to friends and neighbors, along with unlimited and often unsolicited advice.
Gloria spent leisurely days in retirement, walking countless miles barefoot along the ocean on Hilton Head Island, where the family has a condo on South Forest Beach. She loved swimming in the ocean, reading by the pool, hiking in the nature preserve, and cycling on the island’s hard-sand beach and tree-lined bike paths.
In Oakland, California the family kept another home near Lake Merritt, a favorite spot for her daily jaunts and random bantering with the multicultural citizens of the city. Gloria enjoyed volunteering to conserve and improve Oakland’s gorgeous Marcom Rose Garden.
Gloria had the good fortune to travel to many places around the world. With her husband, she attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, meeting Nelson Mandela and other distinguished political, business and academic leaders. She charmed the elite crowd with her wit and wisdom.
Gloria relished road trips across America and visited all 50 states. She journeyed throughout Europe, Latin America, and Asia. She explored Peru’s Machu Picchu, floated down the Amazon, surveyed the ancient native American ruins of Mexico and Central America, and toured the pyramids and temples of Egypt. Gloria went on exotic safaris and camped out in the African bush, with the sound of lions roaring at night. She rode trains across Asia and witnessed the wonders of China, Japan, and Korea.
Yet what she treasured were not just the places she went, but the many people she met. In all her travels, across all continents and cultures, she easily made friends, shared stories and laughs, and left a lasting impression with her buoyant optimism and eccentric philosophical musings.
Gloria embraced the serendipity of life. She was sensual, spiritual, and – above all – instinctively enlightened. She had a genuine compassion for all living things and an abiding affection for the small planet that was her home for 68 years.