Norma Hurley Fitzgerald, a 50-year resident, beloved teacher and active civic citizen in Curry County, died March 31 in Wilsonville.
She was surrounded by her four children: Shannon, Julie, Kate and Ted.
Fitzgerald was born Dec. 16, 1932, to a prominent pioneer family in Phoenix, Arizona, and spent her youth riding horses with a riding academy, becoming a member of clubs in high school and earning her elementary education degree from the University of Arizona.
She married Mike Fitzgerald, began teaching, started a family and then relocated to Germany, San Diego, Seattle and finding themselves in Curry County as pioneers themselves.
“We arrived at the ranch in the late summer of 1969 and I saw the house, rambling and surrounded by tall grass and weeds,” she wrote last week. “Mike would be a farmer, my four kids would be in school, and I would be a farmer’s wife living out here ... in the middle of nowhere.
“I figured we’d only stay one year in this place before Mike realized it was hopeless,” she recalled. “Meanwhile, I had to find something else to do.
“I’m going to town to get a job,” I told Mike.
He reminded her school was about to start and the district would likely not be hiring that late in the year.
Her actions don’t surprise her grown children. Norma headed into town from the 600-acre farm and was hired on the spot as a music teacher at Kalmiopsis Elementary School, where she spent three years.
“One of the most amazing things about my life is that I got every single job I ever applied for,” Norma wrote. “Having such success is incredible.”
Later she was a teacher and principal at the Pistol River School, then returned to teach various grades in Brookings for the next seven years.
“She loved being a teacher,” said her son, Ted. “Many of the people in our town were once her student.”
In 1981, she took a break to try her hand at selling insurance and — true to course, her children say — she was named Agent of the Year. It inspired her to stay in the field for 35 years. She ran that business until a few days before her death and along the way received lifetime career honors and was a permanent member of the Million Dollar Roundtable.
Daughter Kate remembers how Norma successfully juggled all her skills — entertaining, music, cooking, the outdoors — when the family hosted cousins on the ranch outside town.
“She had us doing all kinds activities,” Kate recalled. “Swimming in the rivers, going to the freezing beach, riding horses, putting on plays, singing songs, barbecues, picnics. It makes it sound as if we were at some high-end resort but we were out in the middle of this ramshackle ranch in the middle of nowhere.”
Ted remembers the days she would invite the high school cross-country team to practice at the ranch — by rounding up the sheep.
“She was a real outdoors person,” he said. “I remember big long hikes throughout my childhood, long bike rides; she was always outdoorsy.”
Norma meant it when she told her husband she was going into town that day in 1969.
Over the years, she served as a member and 1986 president of both the Brookings Soroptimist Club and Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and as a licensed private pilot, a member of the Brookings Flying Club. She was also a long-time member of the Brookings-Harbor Scholarship Foundation board, a commissioner on the Port of Brookings Harbor, served on the board of the Educational Services District from 1997 to 2003 and was chair of various political campaigns.
She also loved being a pilot, Kate said.
“She never thought she would do that,” she said. “But this is a woman who took business classes at the age of 9 to learn how to type. She was driving her mother crazy; she wanted to type. So her mother sent her to an adult business school — Lamson Business College — when she was 9 years old to learn typing. She always had this ambition, a huge amount of energy.”
Norma loved to travel, as well, and even had the opportunity to meet Nobuo Fujita, the Japanese pilot who attempted to light the woods around Brookings on fire by bombing the area during World War II.
She liked reading, knitting and even ran a few foot-races — thrilled that she didn’t come in last place, Kate said. In recent years, she socialized with people she knew at the post office.
“It’s hard to believe she’s actually gone because she’s always been such a live wire,” Ted said, adding that a guy came to the office to discuss his mother’s affairs recently, noting that his mother was 72. “He said, ‘She’s 72, she’s not like your mother. Your mother doesn’t age. She’s like, your age.’”
Norma was directing activity until the day she died, Kate said, even insisting on approving her obituary.
“We were up there before she died,” Ted said, “And she’s trying to keep everyone organized. Finally at one point, she said, ‘There’s only so much you can do from the grave.’ She was funny all the way to the end.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .