Gladys Palmer Bewley O’Brien, 96, former director of the Haddonfield Public Library, died Sunday, June 2. of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at Medford Leas, a senior community in Medford.
She lived in Haddonfield for many years before moving to the community in 2000.
Mrs. O’Brien began working at the library as the reference librarian in 1961. She left the job in 1966 to work as a consultant for the Drexel Graduate School of Library Science. Once back at the Haddonfield library, Mrs. O’Brien rose to the position of director in 1974 and held that post until retiring in 1981.
She came out of retirement to serve as the interim director of the Gloucester County College Library in 1985. She also served as a part-time consultant for the State Library of New Jersey from 1968 to 1980.
Douglas Rauschenberger, her successor at the Haddonfield library, described Mrs. O’Brien as a consummate professional and caring mentor. She came along at a critical time in the 1960s and 1970s, when libraries were being inundated with the “information explosion,” he said.
“Haddonfield and its citizens were well-served during her years as director,” Rauschenberger said. “She had a clear vision of how libraries could empower people and enhance communities.
“Although she was a very passionate reader, books themselves were not her main focus; she believed libraries were educational institutions and the connector of people of all ages, interests, and backgrounds with information to enhance and enrich their lives.”
Born in Bayonne, N.J., she was the daughter of Garner David Palmer and Gladys Elizabeth Powers Palmer. Her family moved often when she was a child. She graduated in 1940 from Barringer High School in Newark, N.J., and was awarded the Bamberger Medal for Scholarship.
As an undergraduate at New Jersey College for Women, which became part of Rutgers University, she studied Spanish, Portuguese, and French. She earned a bachelor’s degree in languages in 1944.
During her senior year in college, she married Philip B. Bewley. After graduation, the couple moved to Florida, where she taught Spanish. From 1948 to 1960, the family lived in Metuchen, N.J. Mrs. O’Brien enrolled in graduate school at Rutgers. When the family moved to Haddonfield in 1960, she studied long-distance, earning a master’s degree in library service in 1963.
Philip Bewley died in 1981. Five years later, she married Robert O’Brien, a longtime Haddonfield resident. They traveled and reveled in the achievements of their children and grandchildren.
“They could be seen holding hands during walks through the splendid arboretum at Medford, and sharing every sunset and sunrise,” their family said. “They were so fortunate to have each other during that last quarter-century of their lives.”
Mrs. O’Brien was active in Haddonfield United Methodist Church. Throughout her life, she was involved in many professional, educational, civic, and cultural activities, often as a leader.
She was described by family as intelligent, organized, practical, inquisitive, a stickler for proper grammar, a survivor in difficult situations, and a gentlewoman.
Robert O’Brien died in 2009. She is survived by children Peter Bewley, Susan Bewley, Elizabeth Bewley, Sharon Kurtz, Sheila Leech, and Dan O’Brien; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 17, at Haddonfield United Methodist Church, 29 Warwick Rd. Burial will be private.