Herb Gleason » Obituaries » Salzburg Global Seminar

Herbert Gleason: “The Fourth Founder”

Herbert “Herb” Gleason first walked through the iron gates of Schloss Leopoldskron in 1949. He made his final trip to Salzburg for the unveiling of a bust of his likeness at the annual June board meeting weekend 2013, and attended his final Fellowship event at the age of 85. His death on December 9, 2013 marks the end of an era.

As a Harvard underclassman in 1948, Herb was selected alongside five other Harvard students through a university-wide competition to administer the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies summer program of 1949 – the third ever session. 

As the then editor of the university newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, Herb was put in charge of publicity. This position marked the beginning of a long association with Salzburg Global Seminar that lasted nearly 65 years.

In 1950, as the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies was incorporated, Herb was appointed Clerk. After graduation, Herb served for two years as Assistant European Director in Salzburg, selecting European fellows and planning educational programs. He was determined to broaden the curriculum beyond simply American studies, and to have Europeans on the faculty. Herb saw the organization as more than just an American or even a Trans-Atlantic institution and his early forward thinking of the international significance of the gatherings at Schloss Leopoldskron helped the organization become what it is today: Salzburg Global Seminar. 

In 2010, Herb attended his last meeting of the Board of Directors of Salzburg Global Seminar, a board which he joined 60 years previous. His close relationship with the three original founders – Richard Campbell, Scott Elledge and especially Clemens Heller – and his long history with the organization earned Herb the title “The Fourth Founder”.

In those six decades of dedication to the organization, Herb was Acting President, and Treasurer and Secretary of the Board of Directors, and provided legal counsel. In 1994, he was awarded the Salzburg Cup, the highest honor Salzburg Global bestows upon individuals for distinguished service, and was named co-chair of the Salzburg Global Fellowship, alongside the late Sir Michael Palliser in 2011.

Herb grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts, and attended Derby Academy in Hingham, Massachusetts and Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.  He graduated magna cum laude in History from Harvard College in 1950. After earning his law degree at Harvard Law School, Herb practiced law in Boston from 1958 onwards, mostly in the fields of municipal law, real estate development and health care. He was Chairman of the Board of Health and Hospitals of the City of Boston and was a founder and director of the Neighborhood Health Plan, as well as director and vice president of the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium and appointed by the Mayor of Boston to serve as a trustee of Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

Outside the gates of Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg Global influenced Herb’s work. One example came in the book he edited, Getting Better: A Report on Health Care from the Salzburg Seminar, which was based on lectures and discussions at Session 190, ‘Health Care: Allocating Resources in Urban Societies’ in 1979. The book brought the discussions and conclusions to the attention of policymakers who were deciding how to satisfy demands for health care within narrowing financial limits.

Herb was always an active member of the Salzburg Global community, even into his final months which saw him lead the Salzburg Global Fellowship event in Boston, USA on ‘How To Deliver Truly Sustainable And High Value Health Care: Maximizing The Potential Of Cross-Border Learning’ in October 2013. 

He said of the Fellowship: “We’re not any longer re-building civilization but I think we’re trying to hang on to civilization. The only way to do that is to put like-minded people in touch with one another.”

The Annual June Board Weekend in 2013 saw the unveiling of a statute of Herb’s likeness. The event was attended by Herb and his son David; Herb’s wife Nancy, who had also served many years on the Salzburg Global Board of Directors, had passed away a few weeks prior. 

Despite being lauded by many as the embodiment of the values of Salzburg Global Seminar, Herb was typically humble about his long-running commitment. Speaking at the unveiling, Herb said: “It was [Heller’s] imagination, vision and conviction that created this place… All I did for the next 60 years was to sustain his vision.”

Shortly after travelling to Salzburg this summer, Herb was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in August. Despite undergoing treatment, he still attended and indeed opened the Boston Fellowship event, which he had been involved in since its inception. He died in the early hours of December 9, after the treatments he chose to fight the cancer produced a series of side effects that seriously weakened his immune system and led to his rapid decline.

He is survived by his daughter Alice Gleason and her husband Stephen Lane; and son David Gleason, his wife Sonia, and their children Christopher and Matteo.  A memorial service will be held at Arlington Street Church, Boston in January.

The bust of Herb Gleason now stands outside the Parker Hall of Schloss Leopoldskron, as an inspiration to all future generations of Salzburg Global Fellows, and as reminder to Salzburg Global Seminar staff and directors to maintain the vision of Heller, Campbell, Elledge – and Gleason.