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Norm & Roberta

Norm & Roberta - Their College Years, Courtship, and Early Marriage - delivered by their friend, Bob Brenan

Roberta's Memorial Service, November 6, 2010  (audio)

Good afternoon.  My name is Bob Brennan, and as one of Norm's college roommates, I had the privilege of seeing Roberta and Norm's relationship unfold during their time at the University of California, Irvine, and the years that followed. (see Slide Show and photos

In the fall of 1975, Norm and I were juniors living in Bahia, a rowdy men's dorm at UCI, and Roberta was a freshman living in Cuesta, a neighboring girls’ dorm.  Norm first noticed Roberta in November, but could not find a convenient way to talk with her until March of 1976 when he asked a friend to make sure that she was invited to "The Islander", Bahia's yearly spring party.  It was evident that Norm was very motivated to meet this cute freshman, because he didn't care for parties, and certainly couldn't dance. That night, Norm got out of his comfort zone and stumbled around the dance floor with Roberta, just long enough that she would hopefully remember his name.

The next weekend, Norm got further out of his comfort zone and decided to ask Roberta to dinner.  After circling Roberta's dorm 7 or 8 times, he finally got up the courage to go inside and knock on her door.  To his dismay, there was no answer, but as he turned to leave, noticed a note she had left on her door that read:  "Canoeing on the Colorado River".   Norm quickly recognized there was potential in this pursuit, as it was evident that Roberta must also love the outdoors.  Fearing that she had forgotten him, he returned to her door the next week, and was greatly relieved when she opened the door saying, "Oh, Hi Norman!"  After a few dates to restaurants, miniature golf, and Disneyland, Norm was out of money, and was very pleased to find that Roberta was just as happy eating at the dining commons, studying together, and taking walks and bike rides around UCI's beautiful campus. Spring quarter came to an end all too quickly, but as they were saying good-bye, Roberta invited Norm to her home to see the Fourth of July parade in the Palisades.  Although Norm thought the parade was rather pathetic, he was very impressed with Roberta's wonderful, congenial family, and enjoyed talking with her engineer father, Bob, about travel and technology.

Roberta and Norm saw each other every week during the summer of 1976, until Norm went to the East Coast for four-month long ecological research project.  While separated, Roberta and Norm wrote lengthy bi-weekly letters in which they shared their experiences, goals, and most importantly, their growing understanding of God and His call upon their lives.  Roberta and Norm were both very active in the Navigators Christian Fellowship at UCI, and developed life-long friendships with others in the group, a number of whom are here this afternoon.

In the fall of 1977, Norm went to graduate school at UC Davis, while Roberta remained at UCI. In 1978, Roberta decided to become an occupational therapist, and transferred to San Jose State University where she received her professional training. Roberta was an excellent correspondent, and for the next four years, Norm and Roberta wrote extensively to one another while they lived in separate cities.  In the spring of 1980, after getting scooped twice on his doctoral dissertation, Norm decided to take a break in his doctoral program and moved back to his parents’ home in Altadena to teach science at Maranatha High School.  

In July of 1980, in Palisades Park, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Norm asked Roberta to marry him, to which she replied “Of course!”  Roberta and Norm got married the following year at Palisades Presbyterian Church.  Some of the other groomsmen and I decided to play a joke on the newlyweds, and jacked up the rear of the car so the drive wheels were just off the ground.  As Norm pressed on the accelerator the wheels spun in the air until, to our dismay, he jammed it back in park.  Even Roberta could hear the grinding of gears and laughed!  Roberta always had a wonderful sense of humor and a warm smile for everyone.

On their honeymoon, the couple camped for three weeks in the Pacific Northwest, and Roberta proved she could cook a great meal even on a tiny backpacking stove in inclement weather.  For many years, the only vacations that Norm and Roberta would take were camping trips.  Roberta loved the outdoors, and the two were very much at home in the High Sierras, San Gabriels, Cascades, Rockies, Appalachians, and Adirondacks.  Roberta and Norm settled in a tiny 1923 “fixer-upper” in Monrovia.  Norm made the dilapidated structure into a livable house, but Roberta made it into a loving home.  

Roberta and Norm became members of Sierra Madre Congregational Church, and started a Bible study for international college students.  The couple carried on this and a second international Bible study for many years, and developed deep friendships with young men and women from a many countries, a number of whom are with us in this room.  It was amazing that Roberta readily learned to lip-read people whose first language was not English, and proved many times to be a wonderful listener, even though she could not hear.

During those early years, Roberta worked as an occupational therapist at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, while Norm taught AP Chemistry, Biology and Physics at Maranatha High School.  Roberta loved Maranatha and the students and faculty deeply, but knew that Norm, although he thoroughly enjoyed Maranatha, had a need to finish his doctorate.  It was Roberta’s encouragement and willingness to pick up the slack that sent Norm back to UCLA for his Ph.D. in the spring of 1985.  Soon the couple learned that Roberta was expecting, and they moved into the largest home on the same property.  Once again, Roberta made a wonderful home amidst sawdust, wood chips, and paint drips.  

A few weeks ago, when Norm first alerted me of Roberta’s terminal illness, I wrote a few words on her blog that I would like to share with you today: 

“Looking back I came to realize it has been almost 35 years since I remember Norm first talking about this "Cuesta Girl". I was very fortunate to watch from the sidelines as you two started your relationship that in a few years turned to marriage.  I was very blessed to be able to participate in your wedding. I remember the visits not only to your house in Monrovia but also my 'sleep overs' during my days working at JPL. I've always appreciated your graceful and warm hospitality and your beautiful and gentle smile that always welcomed me whenever I came by. And may I never forget how worried you'd be about me not eating my greens! Your faith in God is always an encouragement.”