By: Marilyn Rubin
Nesta Mabyn Gallas was born in Herne Bay, England in 1917, the year before property-owning British women over age 30 were given the right to vote, and a decade before British women attained universal suffrage. Had Nesta been born a few decades earlier, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have been in the forefront of the efforts of the suffragettes to gain the vote for all women. Fighting for women's rights and advancing their roles and accomplishments defined Nesta's life.
Nesta moved from England to California in 1923, started college at the age of 15, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, with honors, in 1938. Following graduation, she worked for the Los Angeles County Civil Service where she met Edward (Ed) Gallas, who would become not only her husband for 67 years, but also her closest colleague with whom she would share her passion for the public service and her lifetime dedication to effective and non-discriminatory public administration. No discussion of Nesta would be complete without including Ed. They are among the few couples in public administration who have worked and written together, gained distinction in the field together, and have both been inducted as NAPA fellows: Nesta in 1973 and Ed in 1975.
Following Ed’s service in the Navy during World War II, the couple moved to Northern California and then to Honolulu where Nesta became the city's first female personnel director. She was fired from her job by the civil service commissioners for taking an advocate role on behalf of an employee. This became an essential moment in Nesta's life. She would forever stand up against corruption and support professional expertise under responsible public law and to fight for fair public-service standards And, she would forever stand for justice for all women and men. Ironically, this can be seen in her Christmas message that was in the mail while she was being fired. Among other things, Nesta's message said that: "Peace on earth, goodwill toward men is the age-old hope...What is goodwill toward men? Is it more than words, more than good resolutions, more than tolerance of others...goodwill is DECENCY IN ACTION...It is vigorous insistence on FAIR PLAY, for EVERYONE, regardless of his race or creed or color" (capital letters are hers). With respect to Nesta's use of the word "man," it must be kept in mind when she was writing. But her message is clear.
Upon returning to California from Honolulu, Nesta received her Master's and Doctoral degrees in Public Administration at the University of Southern California. During that time, she played the cello in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and chamber music at the Baltimore Hotel - a true Renaissance Woman. After she and Ed relocated to New York City, Nesta worked at the United Nations as a Public Administration Officer and then moved to John Jay College in 1968 where she would be a Professor and Chair of the Department of Government, History and Economics, and the College's first female Dean. At John Jay, she was mentor to large numbers of students and faculty, including me. After retirement, Nesta and Ed worked together on several projects for the World Bank and the U.S. State Department.
Nesta was active in professional organizations throughout her career. In 1976-77, she was the first woman to be President of the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA). She was closely associated with the affiliation of the Conference on Minority Public Administrators (COMPA) in ASPA, and played an integral role in the Association's development of its ethics code. In recognition of her work, Nesta received an ASPA award for her outstanding achievement in advancing the practice of public administration. Going full circle, in 2014, ASPA established the Nesta M. Gallas Award for Exemplary Professionalism in the Public Service to be given in recognition of careers characterized by efforts to uphold legal and ethical standards and to advance gender equity. I think that a sentence in the announcement of the award says it all. Nesta was "a consummate professional and path breaker," and she did all of this while raising four children during a time when popular culture and the mass media reinforced messages about traditional gender roles. Since her passing in 2012, we continue to celebrate her incredible life.