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Obituaries » Norma J. Newell

Norma J. Newell

March 4, 2018


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Norma Jane Wheaton Newell
November 18 1928 – March 04 2018

Norma Jane Wheaton was born in the family home and raised at Richmond CA. She joined a sister, Alice. Their mama was from Sweden. She had suffered many hardships, and was determined to make her husband and daughters a healthy and lovely home. Their father operated a tugboat for Standard Oil, on the Bay and up the Delta to Sacramento.
Papa built toy boats for his deckhands “Al and Norm” to float on the goldfish pond he made in their fairyland back garden. He was a fine sketcher and encouraged Norma to draw. She had talent and radar for anything beautiful, and she found beauty at every turn. She loved her dolls, cats, flowers and the stylish clothes Mama made. Alice and Norma worshipped their glamorous older half-sisters, Genevieve and Edna Westerlund of San Pedro CA. Surely, Gen and Ed were movie stars!
At school, Norma noticed a few students sharing shoes. One child had a right shoe, another child had the left. They were also dirty and hungry. This wounded her deeply, the idea there was not enough to go around. Her own family was comfortable, even throughout the Great Depression.
Alice and Norma were treated to lovely long family car trips, chauffeured by their father in his stratosphere blue Oldsmobile. They picnicked at the beauty spots of the Golden State. They babysat for pin money, and bicycled around town with their girlfriends, wondering where the boys were. When the War broke out, they found them. Boys and men were everywhere, so many the young women of Richmond bought themselves engagement rings to fend off the soldiers, sailors and workers on the bus and in the street who wanted to marry them. From his tugboat out on the bay, Dad’s hair turned white with worry! It was a thrilling, terrifying and heartbreaking era.
Norma graduated Richmond Union High School, class of 1948. She attended Charm Fashion Academy in San Francisco, then found work as a Piedmont Exchange telephone operator.
A “blind date” arranged by Alice led her to marry Bob Newell in June of 1950. They opened Consolidated TV, the first television store in Richmond. Their daughter Susan was born in 1952 while they lived at the Newell cattle ranch. As a new mother herself, the job of separating calf from cow became abhorrent to her.
1955 brought a move to manage cherry orchards around Occidental. They bought a small Gravenstein apple ranch south of Sebastopol. Norma learned to drive on the bumpy county lanes, commuting to her new job with the Santa Rosa Exchange. Telephone switchboards were phased out, and she was too far from Susan, so she assisted Bob in his business pursuits instead. She even sold hairspray in bars!
Norma produced three more children in rapid succession; Elizabeth, Michael, and Sherry. She was room mother to them all at Gravenstein and Hillcrest schools. She tended to all pets, friends, clubs, lessons and performances. There were not enough quiet moments, and she often felt “like taffy being pulled in all directions”.
After her children graduated Analy and attended SRJC, she had time and money to join Alice and friends on fun trips. They visited their old beloved places and discovered new ones. Norma became a teacher’s assitant at Parkside School and babysat for Jazzercize. She continued to assist Bob in his businesses.
Norma’s golden years arrived with the miracle of two granddaughters. Friday mornings she joined her son Mike for daddy ‘n me time, caring for he and wife Karen’s baby Clare. Wednesday mornings she played dolls and read books with young Sophie, daughter of Elizabeth and her husband Paul. Norma’s life-long dreams of being a dancer were realized in these wonderful girls through their lessons, costumes, performances and talent! They were her shining stars, and they both have a bright future.
Norma is survived by her children and granddaughters; her sister Alice; nephews and niece, and their children. Bob preceded her in death in February of 2016.

Somehow, Norma weathered the insults and challenges of life the way an apple blossom endures frosts and spring winds and still produces apples. Where many saw a crop infested with cabbage moths and grabbed the insecticide, Norma saw a profusion of white butterflies and searched for a camera (hopefully one with film). She maintained an innocent, truthful, universal appreciation of all she encountered. She responded with grace to most of the tricky situations of life, except when sarcasm was required. Like gentle creatures everywhere, she was often dismissed as weak and pushed aside.
Just how does one so gentle live in a world so often harsh? With difficulty, hope and prayer that conditions will improve for all, no exceptions. Norma did not join prayer circles or march for justice in the streets. She merely hoped: in the quiet of a darkened room, or while strolling along a shore; careful to not provoke anger or resistance in others determined to have their way. She was every bit as quiet about it as she was determined to win; even if the win came in the end, or down the generations. For Norma, love won after all. She went with the angels, leaving her children by her side to live on.

Norma’s family give thanks to the staff of Primrose Special Alzheimer Living for their loving, expert care of Norma in the last, and most challenging, years of her life. Their professional dedication during the 2017 Tubbs fire crisis was humbling and inspiring.

Laguna Veterinary Hospital adopted Norma’s last cat. “Mochi” has run of the place, along with casualties of the fires. A donation to them in memory of Norma would be a very special kindness.

To honor Norma’s life, sit quietly and notice the beauty all around you.

Interment and Blessing
Saturday June 16 2018 11:00 AM
Pleasant Hills Memorial Park
1700 Pleasant Hill Road Sebastopol CA 95472