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Peter Norris, 1940-2016

THIS past December, my wife Becky lost her only brother. Peter was nine years older than Becky. As she put it at his memorial service, ‘My brother never had children. I think I was that missing child. Our parents gave us love, security, a community, opportunities, and the joy of loving to laugh together. But Peter gave me so much of who I am.

“Peter loved all music and he led me to the same passion by sharing everything he loved with me: Piaf, Aznavour, and Becaud as well as Louis, Ella, Sarah, and Leontyne; Streisand, Garland, and Callas. On my last visit in September, he took me to the Academy of Music to see a wondrous production of Turandot.

“Peter spoke and taught French. He also learned and taught German, Spanish, Italian, and studied a bit of Russian. What fun it was to explore other cultures through language with my brother. Poetry, plays, and music in foreign languages opened the world to me.

“With all he did for me, Peter did still more for our mother. After our father died, Peter became the glue of the family, the mortar that held the old home place together. What my mother couldn’t handle, Peter did. And when she became ill with her brittle diabetes, Peter was her lifeline. He managed her diabetes, her diet, her life, and he did it with deep, loving care.“

And, most appropriately for our magazine, Peter was a remarkable gardener. His home garden won a grand prize from the Philadelphia Horticultural Society for Best Small Urban Garden. He had a stone in it inscribed “My Chiropractor’s Vacation” because he’d given his chiropractor so much money to help mend his aching gardener’s back.

Becky, the last of her natal family, had to plan Peter’s memorial service by herself. At the service, she asked me to read her words about her brother, some of which I’ve quoted here. They ended with, “You left your mark, Peter, on me for all of my life, and in turn on your nieces and nephews and on all of the students you taught. We will miss you terribly, but never forget what you gave us.”


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