Lou Norton passed away on September 24, 2013 at her home in Ashland, Oregon with her children by her side. This is a story of how she lived.
Lou Norton was born in 1922 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was lucky to have had two such parents as Kenneth Wood Merrill and Gertrude Johnson. One of four kids, she was raised in a family that loved being together and that loved the outdoors. A family that looked after their friends, neighbors, and the less fortunate; a Mormon family.
Her childhood house, she told me, had a secret mark on it, known only to the hungry men caught up in the Great Depression, that let them know that a meal could be had there and maybe a little work. Her father, who was a dentist, often worked for trade or for nothing if a person needed dental work, and her parents often left out food from their garden for people in need. It was these everyday acts of sharing what you had that left an indelible mark on a young Mary Lou. Combine this with a father who would often send out word that all the boys between the ages of 8 and 10 should show up for a foot race to the bottom of a 30 foot Maple tree followed by a race to the top of the tree ( knowing full well that the 10 cent prize money would stay in the family), and you've got a recipe for a young woman that knows that she is the equal of anybody that toes that line or climbs that tree, and knows to have compassion and caring for those in need (except on race day).
Later on in University her Dad told her, You're smart. If you set your mind to it, you can do as well or better than any man. Someday you'll know. That someday, she told me, was the Women's Movement, as familiar as coming home. Lou was too much of a feminist at heart to subscribe to any religion, and she left the Mormon Church at an early age over the issue of Women and Blacks unable to hold the Priesthood.
On the way to earning her teaching certificate from the University of Utah in 1934, she met her future husband, Jim Norton. They fell in love in English class, where Jim preferred nouns and she preferred verbs. When asked sixty years later what the formula was to their marriage, Lou would often say, It's simple. Jim can tell me the name of the person I just talked to and I can tell him how to find his way home. Jim always thought that Lou's love of verbs had something to do with her need for action. Action, the Women's Movement, and the fight for Civil Rights go hand in hand.
Lou and Jim were married on November 5, 1942 and a week later Jim left for a three year tour of duty in the South Pacific. They didn't see each other again until September of 1945 in San Francisco. Jim was tired, ill, and war weary, but Lou was there to show him his way home.
Lou and Jim's next big life adventure was about to begin. Their first child, Brent, was born in Salt Lake in 1948, and then they were off to California where their family grew by two. Kirk was born in 1953 and Krista three years later. They eventually settled in Mill Valley where Lou really started to work on her Verbs: to organize, to protest, to march. She was President of the P.T.A., Vice President of the Marin County Mental Health Association, involved in the Fair Housing Commission, and extremely active in the Civil Rights and anti-war movement.
In 1976 Lou and Jim retired to Ashland, where they lived in a small cabin way up Dead Indian Road without water or electricity. There they finished conversations, fed the birds, watched sunsets, and carried lots of water. Once down off their mountain and living on 3rd street, they again became involved. They were determined to work for Women's equality. Lou became involved in the National Organization for Women, where she held various positions. She was the Co-President of Rogue Valley N.O.W. for several years, Chapter Representative to the State Board as well as twice serving as Membership Chair for Oregon N.O.W. Her main focus within that group was the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive freedom, and helping pro-choice candidates get elected.
Lou had many victories and a few setbacks in her fight for Women's equality, and sharing in these setbacks and victories was her soul mate and husband of 68 years, Jim Norton, whose passing in May of 2010 took the wind out of her sails. To mourn, to remember, to rejoice.
Lou was lucky to have had four of her six grandkids born and raised in Ashland. I believe her most enduring legacy will be the example she set for these young women. Here is one such remembrance from her oldest granddaughter." My Grandma was a strong advocate and fighter for women's rights, and taught my sister and me to be independent and to appreciate the freedoms and opportunities her generation earned for us. So many of my life's decisions and personal values were influenced by my Grandma, and for that I am incredibly appreciative. We love you Grandma and miss you."
We hope you can join us in some more remembering of Lou, and Jim too, at Krista and Kent's house in Ashland on Saturday May 24th at 1 PM. Especially the members of Lou's cherished Women's Group.
Our thanks go out to Bobbi Campbell and her incredible staff, who tenderly cared for Lou in her last years. Also to the angels from Ashland Hospice, thank you. If Lou had written this, she would have ended it the way she did much of her correspondence: In Sisterhood.