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Herb Gleason



Born in Roxbury, MA, October 22, 1928, Herbert “Herb” Gleason, grew up in Cohasset, MA, and attended Derby Academy in Hingham, MA and Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, OH.

As an underclassman at Harvard, in 1948 he was selected to act as an administrator of the third ever session of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies at Schloss Leopoldskron, Salzburg, Austria, starting his long association with the institution that would later become Salzburg Global Seminar. As the then editor of the Harvard Crimson, Herb was put in charge of publicity for the summer’s six-week-long program.

After graduating magna cum laude in History from Harvard College in 1950, Herb served for two years as the Assistant European Director of the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, living in Salzburg.  Two years’ service in the U.S. Army followed, after which Herb edited the editorial page of the Quincy Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts. He entered Harvard Law School in 1955, graduating in 1958 as Marshal of his class. 

Herb met his wife Nancy Aub Gleason at a party in 1956. They married in 1958 and had two children, son David and daughter Alice. Nancy, a social worker and long-serving member of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts died of a brain hemorrhage on June 5, 2013. Together, the couple served on the Board of Directors of Salzburg Global Seminar for several decades.

Following his graduation, he clerked for a year for Justice Arthur Whittemore of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, before joining the firm of Hill, Barlow, Goodale and Adams as an associate.  While at Hill, Barlow, Goodale and Adams, Herb represented a number of citizen activist groups opposed to various city developments. Herb later encouraged citizen participation in urban renewal as a Director and President of United South End Settlements.  

This sense of public service and grassroots engagement continued throughout Herb’s career, with him later helping successful efforts to save the Boston Red Sox’s famous ground, Fenway Park and to thwart Two Financial Center’s redevelopment of a Boston historic district with a 205ft spire. This “grassroots grit” earned him the unofficial title of “Municipal Crusader”.

Herb went on to serve as corporation counsel for the city of Boston from 1968 to 1979. During that time he became very involved in the health and welfare of the city and helped in the development of community health centers – an issue that continued to be important to him long after he left the public sector, as he served as director of Boston’s nonprofit Neighborhood Health Plan from 1987 to 1998, the director and vice president of the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium, and a trustee of Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

Herb’s interest in health care also fed into his involvement with the Salzburg Seminar in American studies; in 1979 he chaired the first ever Salzburg Seminar session on the topic of health care, entitled ‘Health Care: Allocating Resources in Urban Societies’. From this session he published a book Getting Better: A Report on Health Care from the Salzburg Seminar, which  brought the discussions and conclusions to the attention of policymakers who were deciding how to satisfy demands for health care within narrowing financial limits.

Outside of health care, Herb was also active in efforts to improve the Boston public schools system, the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the Boston Housing Authority.  In 1981, he organized the Massachusetts Boston Chapter of the Lawyer’s Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control of which he was President until 1989.  At Smith, McNulty and Kearney, he continued his work with health care providers and other non-profit institutions, estate planning and trust administration.  In 1990, he was appointed to the State Ethics Commission and the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

His civic engagement was not limited to the city of Boston. In addition to his long-standing relationship with the globally-focused Salzburg Global Seminar, Herb was also a founding organizer of the Lawyer’s Alliance for World Security, which advocated for the containment of weapons of mass destruction through international law.

Long into what should have been his retirement, Herb continued to advise non-profit health, educational, housing and religion institutions in corporate matters. He only stepped down from the Board of Directors of Salzburg Global Seminar in 2010, after serving for 60 years. He was still an active Salzburg Global Fellow in his last months, attending and leading the development of a Salzburg Global Fellowship Event in Boston just six weeks before his death on December 9, 2013.

As was remarked by the current chair of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Heather Haaga on the news of Herb Gleason’s death: “How lucky we were to have him in our lives for so long.”

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