Nieman News

A smiling woman

Nancy Giles

Dr. Nancy Giles, a dedicated psychologist and wife of former Nieman curator Bob Giles, died in Michigan on July 7, 2021, at the age of 82.

Known for her kindness, empathy, sharp mind and joyful spirit, Nancy helped welcome each new class to the Harvard campus during Bob’s tenure as curator, which ran from 2000 to 2011. Nancy and Bob also regularly invited fellows and staff into their Cambridge home, building strong bonds and bridges that many fellows remember as an integral and treasured part of their fellowship.

Recalling their time at Harvard, Bob said, “Nancy loved being in the company of the Nieman Fellows. It was the happiest time of her life.”

As a testament to the many lives she touched within the Nieman community, dozens of fellows have shared memories of her in social posts, many describing her warmth, grace and thoughtfulness as well as her sage advice and support, which she was always quick to offer.

Born Nancy May Morgan in Cleveland in 1938, she graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1960 with a degree in politics and government. She later earned a master’s degree in school and child clinical psychology from the University of Akron and a doctoral degree in psychology from the University of Rochester.

During her career as a psychologist, she often helped clients who were dealing with trauma.

Through the years, she moved with Bob as he accepted new positions in newsrooms across the country, leaving Ohio’s Akron Beacon Journal to join the Democrat & Chronicle and the Times-Union in Rochester, N.Y., and then The Detroit News in Michigan. Bob subsequently served as a senior vice president of the Freedom Forum in New York before becoming curator of the Nieman Foundation.

Wherever she went, Nancy easily made friends, established meaningful roots in the local community and found new ways to volunteer her skills and time. Civil rights, politics and journalism were among the many causes and issues she cared deeply about.

In 2010, Ohio Wesleyan recognized her as “an exemplary volunteer” and for her dedication to her alma mater. At that time, she worked with groups including the American Red Cross, the Junior League and OWU alumni groups. In recent years, she continued to volunteer at the Probate Court and other places in Traverse City, Michigan, where she and Bob had moved after leaving Cambridge.

In addition to Bob, she is survived by her children, David, Megan Giles Cooney and Rob; and four grandchildren.

The Giles family asks that in lieu of flowers, people consider contributing to Ohio Wesleyan University, (donations may be sent to the Development Office, 61 S. Sandusky St., Delaware, Ohio, 43015); or the Friends of the Leelanau Township Library, 119 E. Nagonaba St., P.O. Box 235, Northport, MI, 49670.

A woman and man at a football game

Nancy and Bob Giles at a Harvard-Yale football game

Nieman Fellows remember Nancy Giles

A small sampling of the many recollections shared by Nieman Fellows

Alfredo Corchado, NF ’09, author an Mexico-border correspondent for The Dallas Morning News:

Three people at a lake

Alfredo Corchado (left), with Nancy and Bob Giles in Michigan

I’ve always seen my Nieman class of 2009 as little flickering lights around the globe. To me, Nancy’s big, warm smile was the brightest of them all. She was radiant, elegant, independent, fun, gracious, empathetic — a beautiful human being. I visited Nancy and Bob twice in Traverse City, Michigan, to do book talk events, which they both helped arrange. I remember over dinners she would name Niemans from prior years by name, and new names of children. Every time I said goodbye to her, she would have none of that. She said, “Freddy, you’re family now. You’re stuck with us to the end.” She and Bob made me feel like a son. In many ways Nancy epitomized the meaning of the Nieman year when we literally form a new family. Theirs was a timeless love story and we’re so lucky they shared it with us, so unselfishly.

Stefanie Friedhoff, NF ’01, German-American journalist, professor of the practice and strategy director at the Brown University School of Public Health:

“Sure I know Bob, but have you met his wife, Nancy?!!” The renown psychiatrist on the other end of the phone line wasn’t shy about which Giles he felt more strongly about. I had called him to research a Nieman conference on journalism and trauma, and mentioned my boss at the time, Nieman curator Bob Giles. “Nancy,” the expert said, “is a terrific psychologist, a force of nature, and a true mensch. We were left with a gaping hole when she left Michigan.”

Almost 20 years later, as Nancy has left all of us, I feel that gaping hole. Nancy was a woman ahead of her time, raising three children while getting a Ph.D., doubling as the wife of a top editor while starting and growing her own stellar career. She was a skilled “self reinventor” (her words!), finding new purpose in every new community she conquered. For more than a decade at Lippmann House, Nancy was one of the souls of the fellowship, the person who would break the ice, who asked the difficult questions, who tended to fellows, affiliates and the fellowship community, and who, both in professional and personal ways, kept many of us an essential bit saner.

Nancy shared her boundless kindness with my entire family in more ways than I can count. We will miss her wit and her heart, her warmth and her strength. She’s leaving a gaping hole indeed, but also, a legacy of courage and inspiration that we will carry forward. R.I.P., Nancy.

Boris Muñoz, NF ’10, Opinion editor of the New York Times en Español, and his wife Beatriz Oropeza Urquhart:

Beatriz and I left Venezuela in 2009 to come to the Nieman without knowing we would never return. From the beginning, Nancy opened the doors of her home to us and gave us her support, friendship and trust, making it easier for us to adapt to what ended up being a voluntary exile. She gave us the best of care and the best chocolate chip cookies. We’re sure that many others also enjoyed her generosity. What Bob and Nancy brought to the Nieman made the experience much more than achieving every journalist’s dream. For us they made all the difference. Thanks to them we are here today.

Lisa Mullins, NF ’10, anchor of WBUR’s “All Things Considered” and guest anchor of NPR’s “Here and Now”:

Nancy was simply unforgettable, with her elegant bearing and downhome style. She’d seek you out at a party and, with a broad smile, lean over, and say “So, how ya doin’, kiddo?” And she really wanted to know! Only after my Nieman year ended did I realize what a meaningful bond she created with scores of fellows and affiliates, especially those who felt adrift. I’ll miss her wisdom, her rectitude, her wonderful relationship with Bob, her unpretentiousness, and even her barrettes.

Ernie Suggs, NF ’09, race reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a Nieman Advisory Board member: 

A group of smiling people

Nancy and Bob Giles with 2009 Nieman Fellows at Bob's retirement party in May 2011

Nancy was a breath of fresh air whenever she entered the room. Never had I seen a wider, more beautiful smile and the greatest thing about it and her was that she was always genuine. In such a long, and at times, emotional year, she was always someone that I could count on for kind and encouraging words. Or just that smile.

Rosita Boland, NF ’09, senior features writer for The Irish Times:

Nancy’s warmth, hospitality, and thoughtfulness were hallmarks of her beautiful character. One of the highlights of our Nieman year was the evening that Nancy and Bob hosted each of us in turn in their home. On the evening I was there, I happened to compliment her on her olive butter. The following week, I found a card in my pigeonhole with her handwritten recipe for it. That was Nancy through and through. Thoughtful in even the smallest ways. She and Bob were a fabulous team.