The short description that appeared under her high school graduation photograph proved to be fitting. It read, “A woman nobly planned to comfort and command.”

Pearl Estelle (Cohen) Gerber became the first Jewish girl in Portland to attend and to graduate from a Catholic high school – St. Joseph’s Academy, which later became Catherine McCauley High School.

During her long life, Mrs. Gerber became a nurse, caring for sick patients, dozens of terminally ill patients, and injured professional athletes.

A longtime Portland resident, Mrs. Gerber died early Sunday. She had celebrated her 99th birthday on Dec. 25, 2013.

“Physically she was failing, but mentally she was sharp as a tack,” said her son, John Gerber of Portland. “She had a fabulous memory. She could remember the names of people that she had met years ago.”

Mrs. Gerber was born in Portland, the only child of Ida and Max Cohen. Her father was a fruit peddler. She grew up on Munjoy Hill and attended Portland High School. She transferred to St. Joseph’s Academy in Portland for her junior and senior years, graduating in 1933.


Gerber said his mother always told her children that she was the first Jewish girl to attend a Catholic school in Portland. The reason was simple, he explained.

“My grandmother thought the conditions at Portland High School were too rough for her daughter and that (St. Joseph’s) is where she put her,” Gerber said.

St. Joseph’s Academy merged with Portland’s Cathedral High School in 1969 to become Catherine McCauley High School.

After graduation, Mrs. Gerber entered the Queens Hospital nursing program in Portland.

Mrs. Gerber later landed a job doing private-duty nursing at Beth Israel Hospital in Brookline, Mass., and then spent two years working as a nurse in the Poly Clinic Hospital in New York City. Poly Clinic was located across the street from Madison Square Garden.

Her son said she treated several professional boxers who fought at the Garden.


“They used to come in all beat up and my mother would fix them up,” Gerber said.

Mrs. Gerber married Saul Gerber on Valentine’s Day in 1941. They had first met in high school.

“They both went their separate ways (after high school) and met again years later,” Gerber said.

Gerber said his father was a talented golfer, who was inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame in 2005.

His mother played golf, but not on the same level as her husband.

The couple lived for a few years in Caribou but eventually moved back to Portland. After her children married, Mrs. Gerber took a refresher course in nursing.


In 1960, she began doing private-duty nursing during the summer months. She treated a number of terminally ill patients, her son said.

“She liked her era of nursing,” her son said, recalling the white uniforms, caps and shoes that the nurses were required to wear. “She thought the level of care was superior to what it is today.”

The couple spent their winters in Florida. Her husband died 21 years ago.

In 1997, Mrs. Gerber became a resident of Park Danforth in Portland, where she lived until recently.

She wrote her own obituary.

Mrs. Gerber died at the Cedars nursing care facility in Portland, where she had been a life member of the Cedars Women’s Auxiliary and worked as a volunteer in the Cedars gift shop.


Gerber got a call early Sunday morning from a Cedars nurse.

“She said, ‘I knew your mother and I took care of your grandmother.’ That is coming full circle,” Gerber said. “She had a wonderful life and made a lot of friends.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:


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