Gloria Márquez-Sterling Tanner


Gloria Márquez-Sterling Tanner passed away peacefully surrounded by her family on October 14, 2020, after a 24-year struggle with cancer. Gloria leaves behind her son Nicolas Tanner of Rockport, MA; parents Manuel and Gloria Márquez-Sterling of Plymouth, NH; sisters Carolina Márquez-Sterling of Hudson, NY, and Loli Márquez-Sterling of NYC, NY; and life partner Tom Atwater of Manchester.

Gloria, or Tati, her family nickname, came into this world in Havana, Cuba, on December 9, 1958. Her family fled the island in 1960 to avoid political persecution after the revolution in 1959. Her family settled in Plymouth, NH, and she graduated from Plymouth Regional High School in 1976, where she still holds the record for the 60-yard hurdles. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in English in 1980 and from Plymouth State University with a Master's Degree in Theater Arts in 1994.

During the early years of Gloria's teaching career, she continued to follow her lifelong dream of dancing ballet, culminating in her dancing with Ballet New England for five years. Gloria's fierce commitment to family, friends, and students, her sense of wonder and passion for exploring life, and her achievements as a teacher, theater director, and mentor are some of the ways those who knew her will remember her.

Upon his birth, her son Nicolas became a central focus of her unconditional love and care and remained so throughout his life. She never let her illness compromise her attention, energy, and commitment to being a loving, present mother. Nic, an only child, and Gloria, initially a single mother, formed a powerful bond early on. It evolved into an enduring friendship as Nic grew into adulthood. Their shared experiences, as well as her son’s achievements, provided untold joys for a proud mother throughout her life.

Among the many traits she instilled in him was a healthy sense of wonder and a tireless passion for exploring the world. Her special grace as a mom was perhaps more a mix of several personal gifts: her irreverent sense of humor, her genuine excitement at all things wild and free, her profound sense of beauty, her quiet and smiling bravery in the face of all manner of pain, her charmingly stubborn yet effortless way of protecting her right to be her, and nobody else. Of these gifts, and everything else she had to offer, she gave freely to her son. And he is the man he is today due to the warm care and special light she shared with him up to her last moments.

Gloria's love of travel was equaled only by her love of sharing these experiences with those she loved. In 1994 she took Nic and her life partner, Tom, to Woodstock '94, a two-day festival commemorating the 25th anniversary of Woodstock '69. In 1995, they took a 10-week cross-country road trip, visiting over 35 National Parks and monuments throughout the U.S. Her travel abroad included Spain, Morocco, England, France, Italy, Croatia, Peru, Turkey and Caicos, and Mexico. Later in her life, Gloria took several trips celebrating her mutual love of travel with Nic, and together they visited Kyrgyzstan, Indonesia, Costa Rica, and Iceland, among other destinations.

Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1958, "Tati" was born amidst one of the most significant political upheavals of the 20th century. Her sisters followed in quick succession, yet the Márquez-Sterlings had immigrated to the United States by the time they were born. Early on, "Tati" and her sisters found themselves balancing two worlds. Born to parents still reeling from exile and resettlement in New England, and learning to cope with losses and maintain their cultural and ancestral heritage, the three young girls also began growing and assimilating to the new homeland. 

The bond shared by Gloria and her sisters was strong, forged in large part out of the unique circumstances in which they were raised. She took her responsibility as the oldest sibling as seriously as thoroughly as she enjoyed it. Her capacity for care and consideration remained unwavering, even as her struggle with cancer worsened over time. She was always there, often in the form of a simple gesture or kind word. She had a mind like a steel trap when it came to anything her sisters mentioned, liked or wanted. She never waited for an occasion to buy or give them something. If it stood out to her and reminded her of them, she purchased it and sent it to them. And when it came to loyalty and protection, they broke the mold after creating Tati. She was the keeper of all confidences and handled them with kindness and non-judgment. They were sisters, best friends, and thick as thieves, something akin to a little gang. They had each other's backs in all things, no matter what, and the bond between “las niñas" (as their mother and father called them), was unbreakable.

Gloria was an innately gifted teacher. She taught English, Spanish, and Drama for 27 years in the Manchester-Essex Regional School in Manchester, MA. In 2011, Gloria led her theater troupe to the first and only ever State Championship for MERHS in the Massachusetts High School Drama Fest. Several of her theater students went on to careers in theater, film, and television. Her students will also remember her for her unique course subjects, teaching classes over the course of her career on baseball, comedy, the graphic novel, and the holocaust.

Gloria's commitment to teaching, her intuitive understanding of inherent value, and the creative potential of learning, as an experience and process of lifelong self-transformation, existed before and beyond all employee requirements. Teaching is a radically creative act. At its best, it offers both teacher and student the possibility of change, growth, and the formation of new connections with oneself and their world. Gloria understood this and it was why she chose to spend her days teaching. The possibility of changing a person's perspective, allowing them to perhaps see some aspect of their life in a new way, is what drove her. This drive was innate to Gloria, especially when it came to engaging those students less served by the ready made models of a system she came to understand could not be relied upon to create authentic learning and care. A tireless out-of-the-box thinker, she was compelled in her work and life by a genuine excitement at the transformative potential of learning and a desire to extend that potential as far and to as many people as she could. Gloria's love of good conversation, and her tireless capacity for changing her mind, also rendered her uniquely powerful as a teacher, director, poet, mentor, and friend.  Her particularly dynamic way of immersing herself in a diverse array of subjects was at once authentic, playful, and challenging to her students. Her method was as simple as it was rare and potent: her teaching was first and always the honest outward expression of whatever fascinated her inwardly in any given moment.

Gloria's love of life, her tireless curiosity,and her genuine desire to share her wisdom and experiences with others led her often to transform the horizon of possibility for her students, friends, and family throughout her life. She instilled in others the belief that they had something valuable and exciting to share with the world, and then she consistently helped them find it. Gloria's energy in all things ultimately affected tens of thousands of people throughout her shortened life.Yet you will not find Gloria's greatest gifts and overall power as an educator in any teaching manual. Gloria's commitment to the substantial value of her work and to students overlooked or failed by the system came from no prescribed set of moral convictions. Her gifts and her commitments came simply from Gloria herself. Educating, and her unique capacity for doing so, was just part of who she was. In other words, her work was not only excellent but genuinely her own. 

Gloria loved the outdoors and felt most at home in the ocean. She liked to swim, walk on the beach, and explore Cape Ann's shores by paddleboard and boat. She hiked throughout the US. Horseback riding was one of her favorite summertime activities.In the winter she loved skiing, especially in the western US, and did so throughout her life. She also enjoyed ice skating, sledding, and almost any other snow activity. The Fourth of July was her favorite holiday: fun in the sun, BBQs, fireworks, and a celebration of the American values that deeply mattered to her, and no presents. She was a Baseball enthusiast and die hard Red Sox fan. She continually challenged herself to learn new things taking classes in voice-over and improvisational theater, writing poetry, and learning to paint later in life.  

Gloria was first diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in December 1996. At that time, there were only six known cases of the cancer epithelioid hemangioendothelioma in the world. At first, she remained optimistic that they would find a cure. In the later years, she would awaken nauseous, in pain, and exhausted from a disease that steadily ravaged her body -- her bones, liver, lungs, and spleen. Perhaps against her better judgment regarding her health and in the face of so much suffering, she would rally on most mornings and force herself to go to school and teach the students she so genuinely loved. Courageously and unselfishly, she kept her struggle and pain from students, faculty, and friends.

A devoted mother, daughter, sister, partner, teacher, and friend, she leaves a legacy of genuine commitment to life, love, and family.

In her name, Gloria's family has established the Gloria Márquez-Sterling Tanner Scholarship, awarded to a graduating senior from MERHS of $1000 annually. The Manchester Essex Education Fund manages the scholarship funds. 

Please consider contributing to keeping the spirit of Gloria's lifelong pursuit of opening minds and hearts alive and thriving. Contributions should be made payable to Manchester Essex Education Fund and mailed to Manchester Essex Education Fund, Cape Ann Savings Trust and Financial Services, 109 Main St, Gloucester, MA 01930. Please identify Gloria Tanner in the memo line.