Gracious, curious, and thoughtful, Gloria Fiorentino Hejduk was a true intellectual and marvelous interlocutor who valued her family and friends with fierce loyalty and devotion.
She was known as much for her great beauty and mind as for her quick wit, conversations, attention to the details of a story, and uncanny ability to see through a situation to its essential truth.
She passed away within days of her 95th birthday at Calvary Hospital Hospice in Morris Park, where she was cared for with grace and dignity. She also lived in Riverdale prior to her death.
She was the beloved wife of the John Hejduk, an architect and educator who died in July 2000.
Additionally, she was mother of Rafael Hejduk, who died in August 2000.
Her beloved sisters Margaret and Emma died before as well.
She is survived by her daughter Renata Hejduk, her son-in-law Darren Petrucci, and her grandson Gianni Hejduk-Petrucci, as well as many family members across the United States.
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, to working-class Italian immigrants, she attended Paterson High School, where Louis Ginsberg — the poet Alan Ginsberg’s father — taught her literature. She fondly remembered Ginsberg coming into his father’s class as a little boy. Her childhood family physician was the poet William Carlos Williams.
In 1949, she received her bachelor’s of fine arts degree from The Cooper Union for The Advancement of Science of Art, where she met John Hejduk, the love of her life, while he was studying architecture. She worked at Oxford University Press in New York during college as a book designer.
Upon John’s graduation from The Cooper Union, they married and moved to Massachusetts while he earned his master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. During that time, she took night classes at Harvard’s Extension School.
While in Boston, she worked as a graphic designer for Little Brown Publishing. The couple lived in Rome for a year during the early 1950s where John was on a Fulbright Scholarship, sat in on classes with the Modernist architect Pier Luigi Nervi, and drove up and down the coast of Italy with their dear friend, the late architect Myron Goldsmith in his Porsche convertible.
Returning to the United States, the couple lived in Austin, Texas, and Ithaca, eventually settling in New York City, where she lived in Riverdale until her death.
The couple were well known for their intimate and delicious dinners at their home with architects, artists, novelists, poets, philosophers, and scientists from around the globe. The food was exquisitely cooked by her, and the conversation was always intense, passionate, and full of wonderful stories about their travels, their shared love of literature, history, and the arts while punctuated by discussions of Carl Jung and the occasional ghost story or UFO sighting.
She was passionate about art and architecture, history, music, animal welfare, civil rights, all things Italian, women’s education, and wrote countless letters during the 1960s and 1970s to politicians to stop the Vietnam War.
Family and friends will gather to celebrate her life virtually and in-person in the fall.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the animal welfare group Bideawee.org, or the Riverdale Neighborhood House.