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Eulogy on the life of Irma Agatha Norris St George’s Cathedral, Kingstown Tuesday, 22nd July, 2014 at 3 p.m.

Eulogy on the life of Irma Agatha Norris St George’s Cathedral, Kingstown Tuesday, 22nd July, 2014 at 3 p.m.


by John Horne Thurs, Jul 31, 2014

If you lived to the age of 98 and had had a thoroughly engaging and fulfilling life it would be a difficult task to chronicle the events, activities and achievements covered within that span. The person charged with that responsibility would have to be discriminating in determining the level of importance attaching to each item and could incur the wrath of surviving relatives if the whole exercise became drawn out.

I was honoured by the call from the Norris girls asking if I would do the eulogy but by the same token I was warned that if I made it too long quote; “Irma might just dig you in the side and say “cut the long talk” or throw you a KISS (keep it short stupid) So, I have always had a healthy respect, indeed love, for Irma and highest regard for her daughters and therefore would never do anything to incur their collective wrath!

This venerable Dame whose life we celebrate today was born on the Grenadine island of Bequia on the 19th April 1916 to Cleopatra Hazell who died in 1986, aged 101.This beloved mother had a long and distinguished career as district nurse in the northern Grenadines. Little Irma (who remained petite, always small in stature;) was 10 years old when she entered the Intermediate High School in Kingstown to begin her secondary education. Little did she know that she was headed for a career in education, formal and informal. Irma returned to Bequia in 1934 to teach at the Bequia Primary School. Here she contributed to the educational development of some of Bequia’s ultimately distinguished sons and daughters, including Sir James Fitzallan Mitchell.{{more}}

She was now well and truly into her career some 10 years. She was an attractive chick who was being eyed (not stalked) by a handsome dispenser whose responsibility it was to dispense medication at the hospital dispensary. Smart as he was he took the opportunity to dispense ‘sweet nothings’ in her ear or it may have been ‘sweet somethings.’ I never knew as whatever he told the children in later years has been kept a state secret.

On 27th December 1944 Irma Agatha was joined in holy matrimony to Samuel Augustus Norris whereupon they embarked on giving to SVG five gifted children: Lynette, Josette, Cecily, Audrie and Perry (deceased).

In 1956, Irma Norris was appointed to the staff of the St Vincent Girls’ High School where she taught until 1967. As in so many other instances Mrs Norris distinguished herself in the breadth and scope of her tenure at the GHS. She thought it necessary to and did introduce Sex education at this girls’ school. All past students who came under her tutelage speak in glowing terms of her teaching of the Scriptures and very creatively making English Language and Literature interesting and absorbing. To them her classes were thoroughly enjoyable! To her credit they acknowledged that “she could be stern but was always fair.”

Irma Norris’ love affair with the Girl Guide movement began with her own membership as a young Guide. It was not surprising then that she started the first Bequia Guide Company. Her training in the movement taught her Morse Code which she was able to use to this country’s advantage in 1942 during World War 11. Communication between the islands and St Vincent was severely restricted at this time so that in cases of emergency on Bequia Irma would walk to the top of Mount Pleasant to send messages by Morse Code to Fort Charlotte Signal station in Kingstown where they were received by Police Officer Robert O’Garro and relayed to Police Headquarters. In the earliest days of Guiding the senior positions were styled Captain and Lieutenant. Below those ranks were Guide Guider and Brownie Guider. Irma Norris rose to the rank of Captain and after the ranks were changed to Chief Commissioner and other Commissioners she went on to become District Commissioner for Kingstown and Bequia. The first group of English Guides ever to visit St Vincent camped under the leadership of Irma Norris, Jennie Jacobs and Inez Coombs. Were it not for other senior competing leaders in the movement like Kathleen Connell (later Paul) Jennie Jacobs, Pauline Sandy who were in line to become Chief Commissioner, Irma Norris would most certainly have become Chief Commissioner of the Guides of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as indeed also the distinguished Mrs Broomes, wife of Methodist Superintendent Minister the Revd J B Broomes. But this did not detract from her stellar performance which matched and sometimes surpassed the duties expected of a Chief Commissioner. Irma Norris founded the Sixth St Vincent Cathedral Guides and had at her right hand the late Miss Inez Coombs and also Miss Nina Maloney. For those young Guides who preferred to remain as Guides and not go on to become Rangers she started a Young Leaders Group. As recently as Saturday, 22nd February this year Mrs Norris attended the annual Girl Guides Thinking Day Service at the Kingstown Methodist Church and was rightly acclaimed by the NEWS newspaper as SVG’s oldest Guider! In 2005 she was honoured by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Girl Guides Association for her excellent service to the organization.

Irma Norris was among the founding members of the Anglican Mothers’ Union established here in the late 1940’s by Miss Evelyn G Mann who was sent from headquarters in England for that purpose. She became Enrolling Member or head of the local chapter for several years and representative for the Windward Islands on the international body. She remained a member to the end! Her natural teaching instincts led her, in association with Miss Mann to initiate an Anglican Young People’s Movement.

What do we know about Irma Norris the woman, the mother? Irma Agatha “Agatha” Norris was an incredibly stoical person! It was on the rarest of occasions that you might have been able to detect from her face that something was bothering her. She was very talented; an excellent seamstress. She made all of the children’s clothes and her own clothes too. She crocheted table cloths and dresses, knitted sweaters and socks, produced cushions, curtains and drapes. Today, she lies before us in a dress that she herself crocheted. Her friends would see her in outfits and would ask her to sew for them, but she always said she enjoyed sewing for the love of it, but would not do it well if it became a profession. Two very dear friends who somehow were able to get some work out of her were sisters Belle Mc Intosh and Rita Nanton. Long before recycling became famous Irma was always able to make useful things from materials others would discard. She was famous for her homemade sweets which she did for church fairs and as Christmas gifts for friends. She believed that girls had the right to break into what was regarded as the preserve of men and do it just as well or better. So it was that she always kept the screwdriver, hammer and saw close at hand. She could fix most things and ensured her children could also fix fuses, frayed cords for electric irons and other items around the home. This mother once told her children that if they couldn’t climb a tree she would disown them. They all did fairly well in this area, but one of them had grave difficulty with the coconut tree. So, ingenious as she was, she carved out steps in the trunk of the tree to beat the system as it were. The stoic that was Irma Norris often trotted out memorable philosophical sayings. When a gentleman who was getting down in age, with accompanying medical problems, seemed to be complaining incessantly, Irma said, somewhat nonchalantly: “You know, we are born, we roll along for some time and then we die… So?” But lest we think all was roses for Irma, there were things that hit her hard; Perry’s death by accident, for instance, he being the only son and youngest child. It is also felt that, as a child, when her mother took her own sister to the US and left her with her grandmother she may have been a little peeved. In her later years as she watched nearly all of her friends and neighbours in New Montrose and elsewhere pass on and she said goodbye to them an unspeakable loneliness seemed to overtake her, but she had a committed and dedicated family that spared no effort in making her comfortable and happy in her last days.

The gifts, talents and skills with which the mother Irma had been endowed had been passed on in some respects to the children; a physical education graduate teacher and sports director, a visual and creative arts specialist and professional photographer, a graduate in languages and in International Relations and regional and international public servant, and a home economist and business entrepreneur. No one knows if Irma had produced a manual on how to bring up your children, but she did a super job to the extent that among these highly attractive girls, none of whom lacked a train of suitors some skillfully avoided, evaded or eluded marriage, to the detriment of the suitor. In one case that shall remain nameless, I believe when Irma realised that the suitor might have been related to that great fighter for Emancipation Lord Pitt, the prospect of the new married name did not appeal to her.

Each year Irma looked forward to having her first Christmas drink after Midnight Mass with her longstanding young friends: Clifford and Trevor Edwards, Lennox John and his sons Christopher and Justin, Janet and Vera Brereton, Joan Anderson, Annelle Thomas and John Horne. This event lasted for several years until her failing health began to take its toll.

St George’s Cathedral has lost a devout and totally committed Anglican who gave much to her Church as to her community and her country and she brought up her children in the fear and love of God.

As we say farewell to a mother, grandmother, great grandmother, we say to her children you can be justly proud of her and of what you have done for her in recognition of the upbringing you received. You spared no effort; nothing was too much for you to do or to give. Almighty God will bless you for it!

There is one person who, as a young cousin, experiencing problems and a death in her family, came to live with the Norris family. By virtue of her commitment to and genuine love for Irma, Sammy and the children, as each arrived, MAY (Walrond ) became a permanent fixture beloved and adored by the family and is still there today, though somewhat impaired by declining health. We extend our condolences to the entire family, especially to the grandchildren who doted on this adorable grandmother! May she rest in peace.