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Family, Community Mourn Death of Halpern

Gloria Halpern was uncomfortable with praise, said her husband Mel Halpern at her memorial service last week. “Gloria hated being the center of attention, and now look.”

Mel Halpern spoke to more than 600 people gathered in B’nai Israel in Rockville to pay tribute in a memorial service for his wife, Gloria, who died in a highway accident near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Feb. 11.

“My Mom is too good for words,” said Jennifer Moore, Gloria’s daughter. “I do not have the ability to convey all the feeling in my heart.”

Gloria Halpern, always prepared, said goodbye in a written note she left for her husband in his dresser drawer. It began with, “If the plane goes down …” and gave the family advice on financial matters and her memorial service.

“Tell Jeff and Jenny to go back to their activities as soon as possible,” Mel Halpern read from Gloria Halpern’s note. “I had a great life,” she concluded, thanking her family and those she knew. The letter ends with a smiley face.

“I hope all of you remember her that way. I know I will,” Mel Halpern said.

Gloria Halpern was a certified public accountant and a professor of accounting at Montgomery College for more than 20 years. But those paying tribute to her came from many walks of life. Gloria Halpern was loved by Montgomery College faculty and students, neighbors in the College Gardens community, her fellow youth hockey parents and later, her fellow Princeton hockey parents.

She is survived by husband Mel Halpern of Potomac; her daughter, Dr. Jennifer Moore of Brentwood, Tenn.; her son Jeff Halpern, a National Hockey League player living in Switzerland during the NHL lockout; her parents Morton and Helen Klein of Coconut Creek, Fla.; and her sister Marilyn Smith.

GLORIA HALPERN GREW UP in New York, where she and Mel Halpern met in 1968. Their first date was dinner and a movie — an Italian restaurant, followed by Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” They were engaged three weeks later.

They moved to the Washington area in January 1969, after she graduated from Brooklyn College. “As true New Yorkers, we rooted for New York over Baltimore in the Super Bowl,” Mel Halpern said.

But the Halperns grew to love their new home. Gloria Halpern received a master’s degree in education from George Washington University, and the couple moved to the College Gardens neighborhood in Potomac. Gloria Halpern began attending accounting classes at Montgomery College, and became a certified public accountant.

Gloria Halpern made those around her feel calm, said Gail Robinson, a neighbor from College Gardens. “She made her presence known by being a good listener,” Robinson said. “When Gloria spoke, everyone stopped to listen. … We all knew when Gloria called us ‘Sweetie,’ she meant it.”

The individual families in College Gardens became an extended family, “The Group,” Robinson said. “Gloria was a surrogate mother to all of our children,” Robinson said. “This week, all of our children lost a mother, too.”

IN ADDITION TO RUNNING a tax preparation practice from home, Gloria Halpern began teaching accounting classes at Montgomery College. “Her personification of dignity, integrity, excellence and hard work … made all of us better people, and the college a better place,” said Nancy Weiner, one of Gloria’s colleagues at Montgomery College.

Wiener and Gloria Halpern arrived at Montgomery College filled with noble notions of justice and injustice, said Weiner, and it was Gloria Halpern who suggested the faculty create a flowchart of their ideas, a concept which grew into Montgomery College’s code of rights and responsibilities.

Montgomery College asked Gloria Halpern several times to become an administrator. “Instead, she moved mountains where she was,” Weiner said.

Through all of Gloria Halpern’s accomplishments as a professor, her priorities were obvious to Weiner. “With Mel, Jenny and Jeff, she was so awesomely intact,” said Weiner.

“She was very proud that one became a doctor, and the other became a professional athlete,” Mel Halpern said.

HOCKEY FANS KNOW about the “Gordie Howe Hat Trick,” — scoring a goal, assisting a goal, and winning a fight in the same game.

Debbie Brynes, one of Gloria Halpern’s fellow youth hockey mothers, described the “Gloria Halpern Hat Trick” — a brilliant, self-effacing sense of humor; a keen interest in others coupled with kindness; and a deep commitment to her family. “For Gloria, it was a natural,” Brynes said.

It was also natural for Gloria Halpern and Brynes to bring their sons to hockey rinks at ungodly morning hours, work the concession stands, and make annual purchases hundreds of chocolate bars from their sons so they wouldn’t annoy friends and neighbors, Brynes said.

Being a hockey parent was even more time-consuming in the early 1980s, when options for high-level club ice hockey were limited in the Washington area. “We shared the passages of hockey, and the passages of life,” Brynes said.

Jeff Halpern attended Winston Churchill High School for one year, then attended boarding school in New England. He went on to attend Princeton University, and played for the ice hockey team.

Just as the players on Princeton’s hockey team quickly became friends, so did the parents who convened on gameday.

Sue Bertoli, a fellow Princeton hockey mother, believes Jeff got his competitive spirit from Gloria Halpern — “Sorry, Mel,” she said. When Jeff was on breakaway, Gloria Halpern would inadvertently strike her neighbors in the excitement. She attended games dressed in Princeton colors, an orange turtleneck and black pants, with a small tiger pin, said Shirreffs.

GLORIA HALPERN WAVED goodbye to her daughter Jenny after a recent visit to Brentwood, Tenn., where Jenny and her husband David Moore had just moved into their home. “That was the last moment Mom would see our home, and the last time I would see my Mom alive,” Jenny said. “At that moment, they were very, very happy.”

“I suppose that I am thankful for several things,” said Jenny Moore, who was grateful that her mother lived to see their first house, and to know she was going to have a granddaughter.

“Thank you for giving me every opportunity in life,” Jenny Moore said. “I hope you can see right now … that the way you have lived your life … has not gone unnoticed.”

“I love you, Mom. Find peace,” Jenny Moore said. “If there is something miraculous, I know my Mom has found it.”

“I BELIEVE MY MOTHER spoke to me after her death,” Jeff Halpern said. “My Mom reached out to comfort me, as she always did.”

Jeff Halpern was in Switzerland, playing professional hockey during the NHL lockout. He was reading “The Forgotten” by Elie Weisel, and went to sleep on Friday night with 15 pages left. Later, his father called him with the news of his mother’s death. In the remaining pages of the book were words and questions Gloria Halpern wanted him to hear, Jeff Halpern said. He read from the book at her memorial service.

“Nothing is more important to a parent than to endure their child’s admiration. Have I earned yours?” Jeff Halpern read. “Will you forgive me? … How I wish I could have seen you in the role of a father.”

From the words in “The Forgotten,” Jeff Halpern heard his mother tell him “Never to deny the Jew in you.”

“Never deny the Jew in you,” Jeff Halpern read from Weisel’s book, and he promised he never would.

“We will be great parents because we had great parents to learn from,” Jeff Halpern said. “I do not blame God. He created you, and you are perfect.”