Elisabeth Gleason, a professor emerita of history and former chairperson of the History department of the University of San Francisco, who was a long-time resident of Tiburon and a faithful supporter of many environmental and animal-protection causes, passed away peacefully on August 9, 2019, at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Rafael. The causes were complications following surgery intended to relieve hydrocephalus, which had troubled her for several years. Before her death, she received the Last Rites of the Catholic Church and she was by her closest family members and friends during her final hours.
Professor Gleason was a professor of the history of the city of Venice, Italy, and of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the author of a well-received book on Cardinal Contarini, a leading light of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. She also authored a number of articles and monographs dealing with her subject, written in English, German and Italian, which appeared in various academic journals, and lectured on her subject in the U.S. and Italy.
Professor Gleason was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and immigrated to the United States in 1950 with her grandparents, mother and brother as a refugee from the Communist regime, which took control of her native country in 1944 during World War II. She was a 1951 graduate of University High School in Urbana, Illinois, and in 1954 received her B.A. degree in history, with highest honors, from the University of Illinois, Urbana, where she had been elected to membership in the national honorary society Phi Beta Kappa.
She was married to John B. Gleason, a fellow academic at the University of Illinois in 1954 and was awarded a fellowship for continued history study. Following receipt of his PhD from the University of Chicago, John received an appointment as a professor of English at the University of San Francisco and the academic couple moved to Berkeley, where Elisabeth did her graduate work at the University of California and worked as a teaching assistant to several professors of history before receiving her PhD.
For some years Professor Gleason taught at what was then San Francisco State College (now University) and made a name for herself for refusing to capitulate to threatening demands by rebellious students and Black Panthers in the era of the turbulent late sixties to abandon her lectures, as demonstrations were tearing the college apart and interrupting professors from teaching. On occasion, she would later recall to her family how she, as a matter of principle, continued her lecture on the history of Venice while student rebels tried to clear the classrooms of students and set fire to the college library as she and her students could watch the conflagration out the windows of her classroom. She was proud of her students for keeping their focus on her lecture, rather than turning their heads to watch the fire.
She was praised by S.I. Hayakawa, the college’s president, but he told her not to endanger herself like that again. In 1968, she received an invitation to teach at the University of San Francisco, an academic institution that had managed to avoid the rebellions sweeping other universities and colleges. As a tenured full professor at USF, she also was elected chairperson of the History department, received prizes for her history publications and both she and her husband, John Gleason, were elected “best teachers” by their respective students.
The Gleasons were enthusiastic hikers, campers and mountain climbers and frequently visited American national parks. For many years, they also vacationed in the Lodge at Lake O’Hara in the Canadian Rockies and climbed the mountains surrounding this beautiful lake. They had a happy and successful marriage, which continued for many decades until the death of John in 2009.
Professor Gleason is survived by her brother, Gregor F. Gregorich, sister-in-law Helma Gregoric and nephew Alexander of Cos Cob, Connecticut; her nephew Michael D. Gregorich and his wife, Karen, and children Dolan, Sampson, Quinn and Margaret, of Darien, Connecticut; her niece Andrea Sherman and her husband, Robert Sherman, and children Robby, Laura and Evelyn of Riverside, Connecticut.
A funeral mass will be celebrated for the deceased at St. Hilary Roman Catholic Church in Tiburon on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 at 1:00pm.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Tamalpais Conservation Club, P.O. Box 532, Ross, CA 94957; Marine Mammal Center, 2000 Bunker Road, Ft. Cronkhite, San Francisco, CA 94965; and Environmental Defense Fund, 123 Mission St., 28th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105.