Gladys Elizabeth Palmer Bewley O’Brien

Age 96 of Medford, NJ

Gladys Palmer Bewley O’Brien, former Director of the Haddonfield Public Library, longtime resident of Haddonfield, NJ, and, since 2000, a resident of Medford Leas in Medford, NJ, died on June 2, 2019 of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Mrs. O’Brien was born in 1923 in Bayonne, New Jersey, the daughter of Gladys Elizabeth Powers Palmer and Garner David Palmer. Her brother, David G. Palmer, predeceased her in 2013. Her family moved frequently as she was growing up; she attended seven different grade schools in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio before settling at Barringer High School in Newark, NJ.  She graduated from Barringer in 1940, earning the Bamberger Medal for Scholarship. She studied Spanish, Portuguese and French as an undergraduate and received her B.A., Cum Laude, from New Jersey College for Women (which later became Douglass College, Rutgers University) in 1944.

During her senior year at NJCW she married Philip B. Bewley, who predeceased her in 1981. After her graduation, they moved to Frostproof, FL, where she taught Spanish. They had three children, Peter (Lee), Susan and Elizabeth (Stephen Brubaker), two grandsons, Peter, Jr. (Amy) and Stephen (Jennifer), and seven great grandsons, Colin, Liam, Matthew “Max”, Owen, Aiden, Carter and William, who all survive her. From 1948 to 1960 the family lived in Metuchen, NJ. While there, Mrs. O’Brien returned to graduate school at Rutgers. The family moved to Haddonfield in 1960 and she continued her studies long distance, earning her Masters in Library Service from Rutgers in 1963.

Mrs. O’Brien began working at the Haddonfield Public Library as the reference librarian in 1961 while still in graduate school. She left for a short time in 1966 to work as a consultant for the Drexel Graduate School of Library Science. She shortly returned to the Haddonfield library and, in 1974, became the Director, a position she held until her retirement in 1981. She briefly returned to work as the interim Director of the Gloucester County College Library in 1985. She also acted as a part-time consultant for the State Library of New Jersey from 1968 to 1980.

Douglas Rauschenberger, her successor as director of the Haddonfield Public Library, had this to say:

“Gladys was the consummate professional and to me a tremendous mentor. We shared the same view of libraries and what they can and should be and I am forever in her debt for her encouragement and guidance of my career.

She became a library director at a crucial time in the development of libraries – with the “information explosion” of the 1960s and 1970s. She had a clear and unwavering vision of the importance of public libraries – how they could empower people and enhance communities. Although she was a very passionate reader, especially of serious contemporary fiction, books themselves were not her main focus. She believed libraries were educational institutions — the connector of people of all ages, interests and backgrounds with information to enhance and enrich their lives. Books, although important, were only a tool in that process. Not infrequently people would inquire about employment at the library and say to her “I love books.” Her standard reply: “That is the least important qualification for working at the library. The library is about serving people.” (The applicant didn’t see her bristle – but I knew it was there under the surface!)

She also believed intensely about networking and cooperating with other libraries, the importance of upgrading of professional library standards, especially educational requirements for librarians, and she viewed supporting and participating in professional organizations as a basic requirement for all librarians. Haddonfield and its citizens were well served during her years as director and in other professional positions.”

In 1986, Mrs. O’Brien married Robert O’Brien, who was also a longtime Haddonfield resident. Together they thoroughly enjoyed more than two decades of exploring far away places, reveling in the accomplishments of each other’s children and grandchildren, holding hands during walks through the splendid arboretum at Medford, and sharing every sunset and sunrise. They were so fortunate to have each other during that last quarter century of their lives. Mr. O’Brien predeceased her in 2009. His three children, Sharon Kurtz (Joseph), Sheila Leech (David) and Dan O’Brien (Helene), his seven grandchildren, Julia Pezzella (Anthony), Joseph Kurtz III (Danielle), Jeffrey and Ryan (Margaret “Marmie”) Leech, and Tim, Tess and Bridget O’Brien, and his four great grandchildren, Dominic and Calvin Pezzella, Joseph Kurtz IV and Mackenzie Kurtz, also survive her.

A member of the Haddonfield United Methodist Church, Mrs. O’Brien became the church’s Archivist in 1997, a position she held until she moved to Medford. Throughout her life, Mrs. O’Brien was deeply involved in professional, civic and cultural activities, usually as a leader. She was a member of the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College (and the Secretary for several years), League of Women Voters, Libraries Unlimited (and Chairman of the first By-Laws Committee), the Middle Atlantic Regional Library Federation (and a member of the Board of Directors),  the American Library Association, the New Jersey Library Association (Secretary and member of the Board), the Camden Area Library Coordinating Council (member of the Steering Committee), New Jersey Task Force for Library Standards, New Jersey State Library Statistics Revision Committee, the Haddonfield Historical Society (Executive Board member), the Haddonfield Bicentennial Commission, the New Jersey League of Historical Societies (Trustee), the Haddon Fortnightly, the Elizabeth Haddon Chapter of the New Jersey State Questers (and Secretary), the New Jersey Committee for the Philadelphia Orchestra (where she chaired the Annual Giving Program for many years), Zonta International, the American Contract Bridge League (Junior Master) and the Parnassus Book Club (in which she held every office).

Mrs. O’Brien is described by those who knew her as intelligent, rational, organized, practical, an adherent of fact-based decision making, inquisitive, a stickler for proper grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, one who set high standards for herself and others, a strong supporter of education, loyal, a nature lover, a devotee of process improvement, a survivor in difficult situations and a gentlewoman.

A memorial service will be held at 1:00 PM on Saturday, August 17, 2019, at the Haddonfield United Methodist Church, 29 Warwick Rd, Haddonfield, NJ.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that memorial donations be made to the Rutgers University Foundation in support of the Gladys Palmer Bewley O’Brien Memorial Endowed Fellowship. Please send your donation to:

Attn: Rob Eccles
Rutgers University
School of Communication and Information
4 Huntington Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901