Eulogy for Norman Fuqua

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Norman Fuqua

Memorial Service on December 9, 2015 at Hardy & Sons Funeral Home

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to this memorial service dedicated to celebrating the life of Norman Fuqua and allowing us, his friends and fellow church members, to mourn his loss.

Norm was born in Fordsville, Kentucky, in 1926 and died here in Bowling Green at the Hospice of Southern Kentucky on Friday, December 4, 2015. He lived for over 89 years and was well aware of his good fortune in doing so. His wife, Charlotte, passed away in January of this year. Her memorial service was held in this room. They were married for 62 years.

Norm and Charlotte (Norm always called her “Jane,” her middle name) lived in many places across the country during their long marriage, but they always considered Kentucky their home and returned here to Bowling Green for their retirement years.

Norm was, more than anything else, an independent thinker, maybe even stubbornly independent. His son Steve tells me that his dad never learned to read until he was in the fifth grade. This, apparently, was not due to any deficiency on his part. He just could not be made to see anything desirable about it.

Only when he saw the cover of the paperback version of a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs called A Fighting Man of Mars, was he tempted to give it a try. The image of the swordsman wearing black leather, heading into battle while shielding a beautiful maiden from harm was enough to make him think that maybe those little squiggly things on the pages were worth deciphering after all.

Once he made his way through that book, he rapidly made his way through the rest of the books in that schoolroom. Norm, in fact, was an enthusiastic reader for the rest of his life. I last visited him 2½ weeks ago at the Bowling Green Retirement Village. He was reading a thick tome by James Clavell for the second time.

Norm’s intellectual gifts were in the sciences. In college, he majored in physics and minored in mathematics. In a standardized test in physics taken during his senior year in high school, his score was the second or third highest in the state of Kentucky.

Norm came of age during the Second World War. He served in the Army Air Force, stationed for much of the time in Denver, Colorado. He also served in Europe, though he never saw battle. During the period he was being trained for the European theatre, that phase of the war was dying down. It was while he was being trained for service in the Pacific that the decision was made to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war brought him to places he would never otherwise have gone, and he was deeply affected by the devastation it caused.

He told his son Steve that sections of cities in Europe that had been bombed looked like the surface of the moon. Towns that had histories going back hundreds of years were destroyed. It was sobering. While there, he was able to attend one of the Nuremburg trials, so he saw, up close, one or more of the architects of the Nazi war plans. We can imagine that that left its mark, as well. Norm served his country when he was called to do so and was rewarded with the benefits brought about by the GI Bill. He believed that it changed his life, and the evidence supports that.

Norm’s career was split fairly evenly between the corporate and academic worlds. He worked as a development engineer for 22 years, first at Westinghouse, then at Whirlpool. If you’ve ever used an electric dryer, you’ve been the beneficiary of one of his patents. He’s the one who designed the first automatic shut-off mechanism for dryers. Though he loved his work as an engineer, he did not at all enjoy the politics of the corporate world. He stated the truth as he saw it, and that was not always popular. When he was sure that an assignment he was given could not be completed because the specifications called for a violation of a principle of physics, it called for him to stand up to a vice-president of the company. This may have cost him that job.

Norm’s skills were such that different plants around the country would need him for different projects, so this kept the family on the move. They lived at various times in Michigan, Ohio, Michigan again, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Virginia, California, Virginia again, and, of course, Kentucky. Norm was responsible for several patents, but his corporate employers owned those patents. He developed the mechanism for keeping bottled soda chilled in vending machines. He worked on developing solar cells as an alternative source of energy in the 1970s, long before others were doing so.

Developmental engineers need to solve problems logically. Sometimes the solution to a problem will lead to a contract with a supplier whose products will fit in a particular way; sometimes, another product developer will profit, depending on the choice made by the developmental engineer. This created an opportunity for certain suppliers to come up with “inducements” for things to be developed in a certain way.

One day, when Norm was at work, a representative of one of these companies showed up at the house with a brand new blender–a gift designed to persuade Norm to alter a design so as to benefit that particular company. It made Norm furious and certainly did not have the intended effect. He had a “strong moral fiber,” his sons say. “There are more important things in life than money. You do not lie. You do not steal. You do the courageous thing. And you don’t expect to be rewarded for doing right.” He held to his principle so strongly, that he could be self-righteous at times. Who of us is not?

Norm left the corporate world in 1971 when he was 45 years old and then taught at the college level for 20 years. He was the head of engineering at Southside Virginia Community College in Alberta, Virginia, where he also taught physics. Norm loved teaching, but when the time for retirement came, he loved retirement, as well. And he was retired for 25 years.

He loved traveling, and he and Charlotte took trips as varied as a drive to and through Alaska to cruises in Europe. He even took a cruise earlier this year to the Dominican Republic, always interested in seeing new places and broadening his outlook on life. “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” says his daughter-in-law Shayna, quoting a song made popular during the First World War.

Norm believed in fairness above all things and was a strong supporter of civil rights. He was invited to march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights march in Boston in September of 1964. After much deliberation, he decided not to go, fearing that it would cost him his job and leave him unable to support his wife and son. He regretted that decision for years. The decisions you make when you have only yourself to support may be different from the choices you make when the welfare of your loved ones is on the line.

As some of you know, Charlotte’s last years were marred by the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease. I saw its effect when I visited her in the nursing home. Her sons, Steve and Ed, experienced it at a deeper level. Norm experienced it at a deeper level still and for the extended period of its effects near the end of his life. But, he “did not have the tiniest bit of self-pity” over the need to take care of her in that state, Steve says. “I think this is where the ‘better or worse’ comes in,” Norm said.

Norm started out as a child too stubborn to read until he was convinced that it was a worthwhile endeavor. Once he was convinced, he went on to excel in academics, to succeed beyond his dreams in the corporate world, and to become a fine teacher, himself. He was happy to see son Ed become a librarian and son Steve become a teacher. And he had the satisfaction of knowing that he affected the development of generations of young people.

Norm had a pragmatic view of most things, an engineer’s worldview, and it helped him put the big questions of life in a certain perspective. He had a distrust of strong emotions, which was typical of the men of his generation, those who lived through a world war followed by a cold war. He was convinced that much of the suffering of the world is caused by dishonesty, and he abhorred dishonesty.

Once, he thought that if he applied enough logic, he would get to the bottom of the biggest questions, the secrets of the universe, but he came to believe that that goal was forever out of our grasp. You might keep moving closer to an answer, you might feel it getting tantalizingly close, but it would be forever just out of your reach. But, this helped him face his death pragmatically, as just one more step in the adventure called life, though the last step.

Bowling Green was his home to the end. When he knew he was dying in a hospital in Nashville, he insisted that he be transported to a hospice in Bowling Green. It was necessary, as Steve says, to “put a period at the end of the sentence.” His last words were for all of you and I deliver them to you now, “Tell everyone I love them.”

We love you, too, Norm, and we’re the better for having known you and Charlotte. May you rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon you.

Delivered by Rev. Peter Connolly on December 9, 2015

One response to “Eulogy for Norman Fuqua

  1. Thank you for these words. They describe the man who was my friend for many years. I didn’t know of Norm’s death till just now when my wife was checking our Christmas letter list.

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