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The Norris Sisters: “Pride of Middlesex.”

Rachel Norris Bridger (left) and Ruby Lee Norris

The Norris Sisters: “Pride of Middlesex.”

They could very well be called the “Sisters of Charity,” a religious congregation known the world over for its many beneficent works to help fellow human beings.

But while this year’s Middlesex Rotary Club’s Pride of Middlesex recipients bear no historical or religious connotation at all, Rachel Norris Bridger and Ruby Lee Norris are indeed sisters, a congregation of two, who, in a very personal way have given so much of their talent, time, energy and love toward improving the lives of citizens in Middlesex County. Their contributions are many-faceted and have substantially impacted the community in the arts, environment and ecology, and in the social, humanitarian and cultural domains. The sisters epitomize the Rotary motto “Service Above Self.”

Rachel Norris Bridger

After living and working abroad during 1978-79 for the Marriott Corporation in Opatija, Yugoslavia and Kuwait, the Bridgers moved to Deltaville where they built their own home in Bush Park Estates. She returned to her home church, Lower United Methodist, where she became involved in outreach programs. She served as president of the United Methodist Women’s Organization.

When the American Cancer Society started the Relay for Life program in Middlesex Mrs. Bridger was very active in helping to raise money and was chairman for the event in 1994. She served on the board of Friends of the Library for several years where she planned the program for the annual meeting for two years.

As a member of the Middlesex County Woman’s Club, she co-chaired the Country Kitchen during the Urbanna Oyster Festival for 12 years. She is active in the senior program at the Middlesex YMCA and supports the Guardian Angel program. She is a docent at the Deltaville Maritime Museum and Holly Point Nature Park.

Her true passion is working with Hands Across Middlesex. She and her late husband Ed joined in 2001 and started the Housing Rehabilitation Program in 2004. Her husband’s death in 2005 left a big vacancy and, while she says she cannot walk in his shoes, she can follow in his steps. In 2008 she co-chaired a gala event for Hands in her husband’s memory. Through Hands Across Middlesex she can do what she does best —reach out and do small things with great love.

Ruby Lee Norris

“I was born to teach,” Mrs. Norris said in a recent interview. And teach she did, for 37 years until she retired to a Pre-Civil War family home in Topping in 1981.

In the early 1980s Mrs. Norris was a founding member of the Central Middlesex Association, dedicated to preserving the rural landscape of the Topping area. Efforts of this organization helped to speed the adoption of zoning ordinances in the county. She continues to work for planned rural growth as a founding member and publicity chairman of Middlesex Forward, a non-partisan group of citizens who periodically bring experts on environment and growth matters to speak at public forums.

She is one of the founders of the Middlesex Family YMCA and was a member of the first board of directors. She regularly supports the Guardian Angel program, which offers scholarships to children and families who are eligible.

Other community involvement includes serving as president of the Middlesex County Woman’s Club for two terms; chairman of Day Branch of ECW at Christ Church Parish for two terms; and member of the Middlesex County Red Cross Committee and Republican Party.

She maintains a Certified National Wildlife Habitat at her home in Topping.

In literature and the arts, she supported the Literary Festival at Rappahannock Community College in the 1980s and 1990s. During that time she was a founding member of the Chesapeake Bay Writer’s Club.

She is a garden columnist and has written for Pleasant Living magazine since its founding more than 15 years ago.

How Mrs. Norris came to dabble in gardening and writing was answered in a recent interview: “I grew a vegetable garden, because my son married a city girl, and she’s bringing these children up and they don’t know a thing about the country, so I decided I’m going to take these kids and we’re going to go out and we’re going to raise vegetables. And my husband was worse than that. He said as far as he was concerned the vegetables just were raised on the grocery shelf; that’s where they came from. But I have pictures of the wheelbarrows, and the kids raising butter beans. So that’s how I got into it.

“But then raising vegetables gets to be a burden. You have all these things to take care of, whether you’re ready or not, and I recall driving with a whole backseat of vegetables and I thought, ‘This is the last time.’ So I changed it to a garden, a flower garden, a perennial flower garden. That’s when I started writing about it,” said Mrs. Norris.

On its 10th year, the Pride of Middlesex award is given annually to recognize and honor individuals or groups that exemplify the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.” Previous award recipients have included such notable county residents (and organizations) as Louise Gray, Sherman Holmes, Ruth Barr, the Middlesex volunteer fire departments, the Middlesex volunteer rescue squads, Joe Fears, Jack Fackler, Tom Hardin and Charles Bristow.

The Norris sisters will be honored at a banquet on Saturday, April 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Christchurch School dining facility. The community is invited to show its support for the Pride of Middlesex honoring these outstanding women by purchasing tickets or sponsoring tables for the banquet. The cost of tickets is $30 each. Sponsorship for a table of eight, with an advertising placard, is $240. Tickets may be purchased at the following outlets: The Allen Group in Urbanna; Coffman’s Store in Hartfield; all EVB Bank branches in Middlesex; Middlesex County Treasurer’s Office, Saluda; Port Financial, Hartfield; and Revere Gas, Hartfield.

Any funds raised in excess of the cost of the event will be donated to charities selected by the honorees.

For more information regarding the banquet, contact Bob Tassone at 776-8774 or Joe Brinkley at 804-519-9974.

posted 02.04.2009

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