Gloria Ann (Mydlinski) Leadbetter, 84, of Springfield and Woods Hole, MA, died at her winter home on Sunday, October 25, 2020. At the close, her transition was peaceful, as the devoted iconoclast, bastion of feminism, flowing fountain of strong opinions, voracious devourer of almost everything type-set, story teller extraordinaire, aficionado of opera, 65-year partner of science, field-guide-wielding naturalist, fervent cultivator of flowers, elaborate sandwich maker, remorseless car-driving slayer of deep rain puddles, and passionate grandparent, did not awake from what was her final afternoon nap. A book, of course, was at her side.
Formerly of Solvay and Syracuse, NY; Austin, TX; Amherst, MA; and Mansfield, CT; Gloria most identified with her 50 consecutive summers spent at her seasonal home on Hyatt Road in the hamlet of Woods Hole, MA. The first child of Joseph Mydlinski and Emelia (Stempien), Gloria was born during The Great Depression in Syracuse, NY. She grew up with three generations of family in her grandparent’s home on Woods Road, Solvay. All four of her grandparents had emigrated to Syracuse at the turn of the last century, from rural areas of what is now eastern Poland.
After graduating high school, Gloria departed for college at the University of Texas, Austin. There, she first met a microbiology graduate student and her husband-to-be, Edward, in 1955. Their partnership lasted almost 60 years, until his death in 2015. Their first child, Aletha, was born in Austin. In 1959, the burgeoning family departed for Massachusetts for the first 18 years of Edward’s professorial career, spent at Amherst College. The family expanded in size throughout the 1960s, with the births of Garth, Briana, and Jared. In 1978, the family moved to Mansfield, CT, where she and Edward lived until his retirement from UCONN-Storrs in 2005, and before the two relocated to live in Falmouth and Woods Hole, MA year round. She moved her winter residence to Springfield, MA after his death. She and her family also enjoyed journeys and travels associated with shorter periods of residence in Pacific Grove, CA; Sevilla, Spain; Szeged, Hungary; and Washington, DC.
To say that Gloria loved books would be an understatement. Among her favorite places on Earth was the reading room of the Library of Congress. She had started to read not long after she began walking and talking. By the time she was preschool in age, reading had already become her daily and life-long pursuit. Having exhausted the books available to her at her local branch library by her teenage years, she continued to forage for reading material wherever she happened to be in life and in the world, until the end. Gloria would consume any book of almost any genre--as long as it was not romance pulp. Easily averaging a book a day from her childhood onward, she must have surpassed the 25,000 mark a decade or more ago, not that anyone could possibly have kept up with the count. Not surprisingly, among her stern sayings as a parent and grandparent were: “what do you mean you are bored, how can you be bored when you have books?”, before handing the offending minor some toilet bowl cleanser and a brush; and, “a home without books is like a body without a soul”.
Also by a young age (and no doubt amplified by her reading a broad spectrum of materials), Gloria had become a fire-breathing liberal and a staunch feminist with a well-developed world view. This lead to decades of frequent but often below-the-radar volunteerism and social activism. Unsurprisingly, many shelves of her home library were occupied by hundreds of past issues of monthly magazines such as Ms and Mother Jones, along with a well cherished art book commemorating her celebratory communion with Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party” installation in New York City in the early 1980s.
A lover of the radio and diverse music, Gloria especially enjoyed triumphs of the voice. She used her own, on many an occasion, to sing her then young children and grandchildren asleep when they were sick. Meanwhile, she maintained a collection of dozens of recordings by the Robert Shaw Chorale. Never one to shy away from sharing her strong, sometimes bordering on moralistic opinions on music (or on any other topic, for that matter), it was: Björling, never Pavarotti; Callas, not Sills; Cleveland under Szell, not Boston under Ozawa; and Haydn and Verdi, never Brahms or Wagner. While on the topic of her strong positions on various matters: except for no more than 7 hours a week, the TV should always be off. Meanwhile, at least one radio in the home should always be on, and the kitchen should be well stocked with Lindt but never Godiva chocolate. In the refrigerator, there should always be coarsely ground, fresh horseradish. Yet, to be absolutely clear about perhaps the strongest opinion she held across all eras of her life: never, ever, yellow mustard.
Gloria suffered from decades of frustration battling what author Tillie Olsen had termed creative “silences”. Thankfully, such did not extend to her creativity with the extemporaneous, spoken word. For years, Gloria would open up the home and hold court with anyone of any age, while sitting at her favorite spot in the extended kitchen/dining room of the summer house in Woods Hole. Her open, welcoming, and challenging personality generated memorable meals and great conversation with a variety of guests. Those qualities, together with her intolerance for intolerance, her interest in practically everything, and her gift for epic story-telling, made her a magnet for children. Across generations: her then young children, her grandchildren, and their many young friends would enjoy gathering around her at bedtime to listen to her create, out of the ether, vivid stories of adventure. These would often take on an extended serial form, each episode lasting 20 to 30 minutes, night after night, sometimes for weeks on end. It was not rare, after an extended period of inactivity, for a particular storyline to pick up months, years, or even decades later. It is a great loss to time that not one of these sessions was ever recorded or written down. Nevertheless, these stories enriched the lives of many, as did the frequent trips she led to museums, art exhibits, concert halls, sites of historical interest, and of course libraries. She was deeply loved and is now equally deeply missed.
Gloria was predeceased by Edward, her husband of almost 59 years, in 2015. As difficult as that was, it was the earlier, tragic loss of her beloved granddaughter Christina Prankus, in 2003 at age 7, that struck a devastating blow like none that either she or the family had ever previously faced. Gloria was never quite exactly the same after that, the mourning remained a constant. Gloria is survived by her brother Joseph Mydlinski and his wife Susan (and their three adult sons and their families) of Leesburg, VA; brother Albert Mydlinski, of Conklin, NY; daughter Aletha Prankus and husband Niel (and his deceased brother’s now adult children, Isabella and Jonathan) of Longmeadow, MA; son Garth and wife Stefanie Jacobs of Denver, CO; daughter Briana Sitler and husband Chris of Port Orange, FL; son Jared, of Altadena, CA; five adult grandchildren (Killian and Kayla Sitler, Chloe and Olivia Leadbetter, and Ilana Jacobs); and a rather large, extended network of kindred spirits, affectionately known as the “Adjacent Leadbetters”, all of whom she held dear to her heart.
Due to the pandemic, no services have yet been held. Family plans remain evolving, however at some point next Summer 2022, there will almost certainly be a memorial in Woods Hole where all will be welcome to join in to celebrate shared stories of her life.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Falmouth Public Library (Falmouth, MA), or to any public library near you.