Nancy Gross Berkowitz
October 17, 2020

NANCY GROSS BERKOWITZ:  Born on October 24, 1933, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and fighter, died on Saturday, October 17, 2020, just a week before her 87th birthday. She was the younger daughter of Edward Benjamin Gross z”l and Elizabeth Minnette Levey, z”l, sister of Lee Gross Anthone, z”l (Sidney), and the beloved niece of Augusta Levey (z”). Beloved wife of Lester. Loving mother of Ellen and David. Loving grandmother of Abigail. She grew up in Buffalo, where she attended the Buffalo Seminary. After graduating from Smith College, where she majored in American Studies, she worked for Doubleday and other publishers, eventually working on Alfred A. Knopf’s personal papers. In 1958, she met her husband, Lester Berkowitz, on a blind date in Manhattan that was so successful that two separate people claimed credit for it. After telling Les off for innocently offering the name of an opera they were discussing –  we now call this mansplaining – she decided that she was going to marry him, which she did in February 1959, but only after he agreed to read Moby Dick. He was the love of her life, but she would not want us to write that because it is a cliché and she would have cut it out, even though it was true. Nancy and Les spent seven months living in Italy shortly after they married. In 1966, they moved from New York to Pittsburgh, with a two-year stint in London, and traveled all over the world. She made friends everywhere she went and kept them her entire life. When she took her children to Italy, she took them to galleries and cathedrals, but more importantly to the green grocer, the butcher, their favorite neighborhood haunts and restaurants, and to meet her dear friends. Nancy had two children, Ellen and David, a granddaughter, Abby, and multiple nieces, nephews and grandnieces and nephews, who she adored. She loved her own family, and often said how lucky she was to have such wonderful in-laws. She also loved her friends’ children and had an affinity for kids who weren’t naturally compliant, which was a good thing for her daughter and granddaughter. She worked as an editor her entire life and would have taken a green pen to this obituary. After moving to Pittsburgh, she edited for the Western Psychiatric Institute, the University of Pittsburgh, Westinghouse Research and Development, Rodef Shalom Congregation, and Rabbi Walter Jacob. She loved words and read incessantly and widely -- Melville, Dickens, Shakespeare, Thomas Mann, Thomas Hardy, and various writers in French. Although she made friends and connections everywhere she went, she refused to even try Facebook, insisting there were too many books to read. Like her mother, her sister and her aunt, she was an accomplished cook and baker. She loved feeding people and making them feel welcome. For thirty years she assembled and froze apple crisps and apple pies with her dear friend Audrey Schoenwald. She held a wedding dinner for a friend who remarried at age 70, and made 30 individual lemon mousses, after making her children scoop out the insides of 30 lemons to use as containers. We never had a store-bought cake. She made her own gefilte fish, which appeared at over thirty years of seders with the Tregers. She gardened and made flower arrangements, and was a docent at the Biblical Garden at Rodef Shalom. Around 1990, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She immediately began taking exercise classes, making her body as strong as possible and learning everything she could about the disease. When she had a short hospitalization a short while later, she realized the importance of people having advocates with them, and after she retired from her job as a writer and editor, became a volunteer ombudsman for patients through the Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging. She also read to twin girls through Beginning with Books, a program established by friends, from the time they were little until well past when the program usually ended, and remained in touch with them and their grandmother until her death. She had an innate sense of justice. She stuck up for kids who were mistreated, storming into the principal’s office with a handful of change when a teacher refused to provide a Weekly Reader to a child who hadn’t paid the 35 cents. She welcomed our friends, especially quirky ones who didn’t quite fit in their own families. Although she was critical about hair and clothing, she was never critical about us, who we were as people. She was a devoted and loving grandmother and such a good friend. She could hold a grudge. She would not forgive anyone who hurt anyone she loved. That feeling of justice was political, too. She was on the board of the United Nations Association of Pittsburgh and was active in the ACLU. She boycotted grapes, lettuce, and Nestle. She was overjoyed and amazed and full of hope at the election of Barack Obama. She mourned John Lewis. She believed passionately in our democracy. She made us read Civil Disobedience in middle school. She told us Lincoln was complicated in his views of slavery. She made us watch the Watergate hearings and told us the Constitution was magnificent and that the system worked. She was compassionate and kind, and the meanness and hatred of the past four years wore on her. She believed we were better than this. But she didn’t demonize people she loved who felt differently and asked us not to. She did not get to vote. In her memory, please appreciate the gift of democracy. In the last years of her life, she struggled with her illness. She never complained. She persisted. She continued to be the same loving wife, mother, grandmother, aunt and friend she had always been. Donations may be made to National MS Society, Temple Rodef Shalom, or the American Civil Liberties Union, Pittsburgh Chapter. Graveside Services snd Interment Private. Arrangements entrusted to Ralph Schugar Chapel, Inc., family owned and operated.


Send Condolence

My deepest sympathy to you and your family.

By rochelle steiner - October 20, 2020

My sincere thoughts for the loss of your beshert. Nancy will be remembered by all of her loved ones.

By Ed Mandell - October 19, 2020

My heart goes out to you today Les . I am very sorry i didnt get to spend time with Nancy . What a fantastic person , what a go getter. Feel blessed how long she lived and how much she accomplished. I just lost my sister 2 weeks ago , she was 63. I look forward to spending time with you in the near future. Please feel free to call us if you need assistence or anything . Love , Don and Jan Shaw

By Don Shaw - October 19, 2020

My deepest sympathy to Les and your family.

By Tim Litman - October 19, 2020

My deepest sympathy to a most wonderful and loving family. A women of valor, always smiling and beautiful inside and out. A fighter until the end.

By Tim Litman - October 19, 2020

Dear Les, I want to express my heartfelt sympathy for the passing of your wife, Nancy.

By Richard Gordon - October 19, 2020