Nancy Giles, Detroit psychologist known for her community commitment, dies at 82

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Former Detroit psychologist Nancy Giles, known for her commitment to her community and for caring deeply about people, died Thursday, July 8, 2021, in the Traverse City area.

She died of cerebral amyloid angiopathy, her family said.

Dr. Giles, who was 82, was born Nancy May Morgan in Cleveland on Aug. 29, 1938. She watched her mother work her way up from being a cafeteria worker to becoming an executive secretary, a path that served as a model for the kind of dreams one could fulfill if they worked hard, said her husband, Bob Giles, a former editor and publisher of The Detroit News.

She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1960 with a degree in politics and government, an opportunity Giles said she cherished. She would go on to earn 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. 

Former Detroit psychologist Nancy Giles.

One of her greatest strengths, friends and family said, was her ability to build roots and foster community wherever she was. Over the course of her 61-year-marriage, she moved with her husband, editor and publisher of The Newsfrom 1986 to 1997, as he took jobs around the country from Akron, Ohio, to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Ambitious and independent, she always found a job she loved, volunteer opportunities she was passionate about and more, he said.

"She was a great woman, and she was an accomplished woman," said Judy Diebolt, a former reporter and editor at The News. "She got degrees while raising her family. She was a superwoman, honestly."

Among the things most important to her, Giles said, were civil rights issues, politics and journalism. When he wrote a book about his experience as the managing editor of the Akron Beacon Journal during the 1970 Kent State massacre, Nancy was there to help take the book to another level, he said.

"I would bring in a page, a chapter, into our kitchen, and ask her if she wanted to read it," Giles said. "'Would you mind if I read with a pencil?' she'd ask. She added so much life to the book because she knew the story just as well as I did but had a different perspective."

As a psychologist, she regularly worked with people on some of the worst days of their lives, he said. She worked with a variety of patients, including those in children's units and trauma centers, where she'd start psychological care with patients such as gunshot victims who were just learning they would likely never walk again. 

Caring about people and understanding them came naturally to Dr. Giles, friends and family said. She wrote personal notes to everyone from new reporters to longtime friends, marking their accomplishments and sharing in their sorrows. At the annual Christmas parties she famously threw with her husband, people loved the food and atmosphere but mostly the one-on-one conversations with her that they came to know and cherish.

She was generous with her time and her grace, Diebolt said. Ohio Wesleyan recognized her in 2010 as "an exemplary volunteer" and for her longtime dedication to her alma mater. At the time, places she worked with included the American Red Cross, the Junior League and several alumni groups at OWU. 

Even in her later years, when she no longer worked as a psychologist full time, she continued to serve the Traverse City community. She volunteered at the Probate Court and other places "where her knowledge and dedication could be useful," Giles said.

"She really made a mark on this town," he said. "A lot of people miss her."

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

The family asks in lieu of flowers, people consider contributing to Ohio Wesleyan University, care of 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.