Remembering Gloria King, foundation director committed to civil rights

A keen researcher who greeted the world with a wide-open smile, King was active at the Berkeley Senior Center and enjoyed visiting with neighbors on her frequent dog walks through the streets of North Berkeley.

Gloria Marie Smith King. Courtesy: King family

Gloria Marie Smith King — dear mother, wife, aunt, friend, and colleague — passed on Jan. 24, 2022, at age 92, in Petaluma. She left this world peacefully with the morning sun shining brightly outside her bedroom window, birds visiting, and family by her side.

Gloria saw and enjoyed the best in others and what the world had to offer. She was warm and authentic; her mind curious and observing. She would be the first to meet you with a laugh and wide-open smile: her unique way of communicating her genuine affection. She had an enduring positivity and zest for living, even though she experienced many losses throughout her life.

Everyone loved Gloria; she was real and accepting of others — a joy to be around. She had a quiet strength and deep sense of purpose, reflected in her commitment to family and community. And she was a real trailblazer — a woman ahead of her time. She adored animals and nature; she loved to dance, sing, and talk about ideas. While she was not religious in her later years, she maintained a strong belief in the power of good and helping others. Always open to a new adventure, Gloria enjoyed many activities including reading, traveling, hiking, skiing, gardening, playing cards, visiting museums, going to the symphony and opera, and attending lectures and cultural events.

Gloria was born in Seattle, Washington, on May 28, 1929, the year the Great Depression started, to parents Catherine Marie Persinger and Albert S. Smith. The fifth of six children, she was close to her four sisters and brother. She grew up in Portland, Oregon, graduated from Jefferson High School, attended Portland State University, and later Loyola University in Chicago. Gloria went on to have a rich and rewarding career, professionally and as a volunteer.

It was her commitment to civil rights that drew Gloria to Chicago in 1959 where she volunteered with Young Christian Workers (YCW), an international youth movement fighting injustices, and met her future husband Gerald King. She developed a close circle of friends in Chicago and stayed on to work for the Foundation for International Cooperation, assisting foreign students studying in American colleges. She married Jerry in 1966 and, when he became Director of Economic Opportunity at CUNA International, they moved to Madison, Wisconsin, to start their family and had one daughter, Catherine.

Gloria King and her daughter, Catherine, in Luxembourg on a family genealogy trip Courtesy: King family

A pioneer, Gloria opted for a natural childbirth with her husband present, both very unusual at that time, and something she had avidly pursued through La Leche League International. Sadly, less than three years after their marriage, she was widowed in 1969 when Jer passed away from lung cancer. Finding herself a single mother and head of household at a time when women couldn’t hold credit cards in their own names, she became a private investor, astutely investing in stocks as her main business occupation. Moving back to Portland in the early 1970s to live near family, she was also active in community organizations including Loaves and Fishes, Samaritan Counseling Center, Adopt-a-Student program, the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon Foundation, and held many volunteer roles at her daughter’s schools.

Gloria resumed her professional career in 1983 at the Willamette View Foundation where she worked for 18 years. As Executive Director she oversaw the Foundation’s growth and shaped its mission to help elderly residents maintain their dignity, independence, and financial security. Active in the philanthropic field, she held numerous leadership roles at Northwest Planned Giving Roundtable, Willamette Valley Development Officers Association, and served on the national advisory committee of National Planned Giving Institute from which she also graduated.

Following her retirement in 2001, Gloria moved to Berkeley to live closer to her daughter and two of her favorite nieces and their families. She loved her North Berkeley condominium and delighted in the California sunshine and blues skies, staying active and making new friends through yoga, the Contra Costa Hills Hiking Club, Berkeley Senior Center, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, attending lectures at Cal, and performances at Berkeley Repertory Theater. She described her primary role as volunteer dog walker, taking loving care of Sophie the dachshund, Bodhisattva the Labrador retriever, and also Bootu the cat. She was proud to be one of the early participants of a groundbreaking study—the Women’s Health Initiative, a national study of health concerns of women over 50 that has had lasting impact on the lives and health of women.

King at Dillon Beach with Bodhisattva the labrador retriever. Courtesy: King family

Gloria was a lifelong student and keen researcher, well into her later years. After surviving bladder cancer in 2005, she fulfilled her retirement goal of conducting family research, documenting the Smith and Persinger lineage and taking her family on memorable genealogy tours to Sweden and Luxembourg. Travel was a joy and passion for Gloria—a way to develop a deeper understanding of and empathy for people from different walks of life. Favorite trips included visits to her in-laws in Ireland and Germany and travel to the Philippines, Italy, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Mexico, and across the United States, making friends wherever she went.

In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, Gloria left her garden apartment at the Belmont Village Albany retirement community and moved to West Marin to live with Catherine, Lisa, and grand pooch Bandrui. She was thrilled to become a full-time resident of Tomales, one of her favorite places in the world, and became known in the village for her daily walks, greeting passers-by from the front porch, and observing birds from one of her many favorite sunny chairs. Although dementia dimmed her memory, she remained active and her sparkle and ability to connect with others remained strong. After a brief illness at the end of 2021, her family opted for hospice and comfort care. Gloria had made her wishes very clear over the years and left a beautiful letter to that effect to share with her doctors and caregivers. “I do not in any way fear death,” she wrote. “I have been present at the deaths of my brother, my husband, and my mother, and I know death and am not afraid of mine.” She received excellent, loving care from her doctors, hospice, and the caregivers at Taking the Journey in Petaluma. She was peaceful and pain free at the time of death.

To remember Gloria is to feel her warmth, easy laugh, integrity, and generosity. She will be missed by family and friends. She was preceded in death by her husband, Gerald Patrick Lincoln Declan King; parents, Albert S. Smith and Catherine Marie Persinger; her siblings — brother Albert and sisters Emily, Marguerite, Helen, and Shirley and their spouses; and her sister-in-law, Mary King Casey, and brother-in-law, Edmund King. She is survived by her loving daughter, Catherine King, daughter-in-law, Lisa Beritzhoff, and many nieces and nephews (great, great-great, and soon to be great-great-great). May her memory continue to be a source of inspiration.

The family suggests donations in her memory to Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, or Hospice of Petaluma.


maybe death 
isn’t darkness, after all, 
but so much light 
wrapping itself around us— 
as soft as feathers—

Mary Oliver

from White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field