Norman Jason Flythe

December 18, 1916 - February 4, 2010

A Tribute

To a quiet man who spoke not of himself and so left that to others.

The Early Years (1916-1939). Norman Flythe was born in Portsmouth, VA, the only son of Travers Norman Flythe and Mary Maude Stephenson Flythe, who also had two daughters (Florence and Mildred). Like most boys he enjoyed swimming, softball and the outdoors. He graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, VA in 1933 and a few years later went on to get a degree in Religious Studies from Randolph Macon College. Unlike most youths of his or any era, he was smitten with a love of genealogy at age 19 and spent significant time walking graveyards and interviewing relatives in a quest for traces of family history. This passion was to stay with him throughout his life.

Norman began work as a clerk at the Portsmouth Navy Yard (1935-1940). While at a church retreat, a mutual friend, Ada Brangan, introduced him to Catherine Cecilia Smith (daughter of Badger Conley Smith and Clyde Dolores Shell Owen). He was immediately smitten with her and contrary to his usually quiet self, he talked her ear off on that first meeting. She, who was a real talker all her life, could not get in a word edgewise. They married March 2, 1937 and this union of a lively talker (Catherine) and a quiet do-er (Norman) was to endure for 57 years.

Their first child was Sara Joanna, born May 27, 1939. At one time, Norman and Catherine were planning to name their first daughter after Ada but then thought better of it as they sounded out the name "Ada Flythe". In 1940, with a wife and small daughter, Norman got the calling to be a minister. He entered Randolph Macon College, in Ashland, VA and graduated in three years with his AB in Religious Studies in 1943.

The Ministry (1941-1979). Norman matured into a quiet man who lived by convictions and taught by example. Upon graduating from college, he entered Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA and graduated in 1946. But, Norman had not awaited graduation to make his mark. While still in college, he served as a Student Pastor at a Methodist church in Sandston on the southern edge of Richmond. Once out of the seminary, Norman went on to serve as a minister in the Virginia Methodist Conference for his entire career. In the 38 years between 1941 and 1979, he was to minister to 44 churches. At the time he served, the Methodist Conference assigned ministers to a charge (group of churches) one year at a time up to a maximum of four years. The size of his charges ranged from seven churches at one time in Rappahannock County and to only one church in the town of Atlantic on the eastern shore of Virginia.

In the early days of his ministry, the Flythe family grew to include two more children: Mary Catherine born December 16, 1945 and Owen Norman born March 31, 1951. All three children knew that their mother would provide the discipline while their father, the quiet minister, would help them with their homework. They also knew that if Norman did speak on matters of discipline and behavior, they had better listen. 2

As a minister in those days, Norman was expected to perform the full portfolio of pastoral duties from sermons, to weddings, funerals, baptisms, visitations, counseling, comfort, etc. When it came to sermons, Norman did not invoke Hell-Fire-and-Damnation. He spoke in parables and allegories. In one of his sermons he likened people to the various species of fish, thus softening any critical or harsh messages. As for the other duties that required social interaction, Norman welcomed Catherine�s easy sociability and support as she joined him on most visitations.

Do not, however, believe that Norman was without backbone and conviction. In 1953, while ministering in Atlantic, VA, he took a stand in the pulpit regarding the rights of black people. This was not a message the church people wanted to hear and resulted in his being transferred to another church the next year.

While Norman was preaching and tending his flock, his family continued to grow. Sara married Larry Gene Fitzpatrick on June 10, 1961 and then proceeded to give Norman and Catherine three grandsons: Timothy Fitzpatrick, April 13, 1962; Mark Fitzpatrick, May 4, 1965; and Jonathan Fitzpatrick, May 5, 1969.

Another notable milestone came in 1963-64 when Norman took a leave of absence from the church to get his Masters Degree in Education from the University of Virginia and at the same time to serve as principal of a public school. And, finally, in July 1978, shortly before his retirement, he conducted the wedding of his son Owen to Laurel Myers.

The Later Years (1979-2010). With retirement came quiet adventure and achievement. In 1979, he moved to Woodland, North Carolina, so he could pursue his genealogical research in Northampton County and Raleigh, NC. He stayed in Woodland until 1990. During this time, he gardened with Catherine and joined her at yard sales. He also became THE expert on genealogy concerning the population of Northampton County, NC. He researched extensively for himself and others and was often paid to research various family trees. He discovered that in 1838 James Sikes Flythe had changed his name from Fly to Flythe and all other Flys in Northampton County followed suit whether kin or not. Those who left the county before 1838 still spell the name Fly. The reason for the name change is unknown.

In 1987, the Flythe family hosted a 50th Wedding Anniversary party for Norman and Catherine. Although Norman was rather matter of fact about the party at the time, he later bragged about this party to his genealogy colleagues.

On February 7, 1990 Norman�s son, Owen Norman, died of a heart attack at the young age of 39. Norman and Catherine immediately stepped in to play a larger part in the lives of Owen�s children: Norman Jason, born September 10, 1981; and Laurel Catherine born October 10, 1982. They moved to Raleigh and joined the Holland�s United Methodist Church in Garner, NC. In addition to spending time with the grandchildren, Norman sang in the choir and played hand bells. The church was still the linchpin in his life. During the 1990�s Norman played some golf and enjoyed watching baseball games on TV. On August 12, 1994, Catherine died of a stroke and was buried in Holland�s along with her son Owen. 3

After the death of his beloved Catherine, Norman took a 3-month missionary trip to Armenia (May 17-Aug 17, 1995). Although he expected to mentor ministerial students or play some similar role, he ended up living with a family and being escorted around Armenia and being told the story of their current strife. As a result, he developed a rich understanding for why things were tough for them now that the Soviets were gone. He returned home feeling somewhat disappointed that he could not have done more while there. But, once back in the states, he collaborated with Mary Catherine to create a slideshow telling the story of the Armenian plight. He then used this slideshow to raise money for Armenia.

Also in 1995 (Dec 5-13), Norman joined a group traveling to Palestine--a place he had always wanted to visit. How remarkable that while in his 80�s he could travel so extensively, considering that he had never been on an airplane prior to his trip to Armenia.

Even in the midst of his grief and life�s stresses, Norman continued to research and document his genealogic projects. In the late 90�s, he collaborated with his daughter Mary Catherine to place his research in a computer data base. He was astonished to find that the folks who e-mailed them about genealogy were the same ones with whom he had been corresponding by letter for years.

As a result of the genealogical contacts made with Flythe descendents, Norman decided to have a Flythe Family Reunion in June of 1999. He and Mary Catherine sent invitations to all families with the FLYTHE name in VA and NC. Norman had helped William Flythe trace his African American line to a slave owned by Norman�s great, great grandfather John Allman Flythe. Norman and William were the main speakers at the reunion. There were about 113 in attendance, both Caucasian and African American. In 2000, they had a repeat of the Flythe Family Reunion with 106 in attendance with quite a few people who could not attend the previous year.

Due to failing health, Norman went to live with his daughter Mary Catherine in Springfield, VA in 2003. He was happy and safe living with his daughter. While living with Mary Catherine, he had an opportunity to develop a close and loving relationship with his great-grandchildren (Tommy Fitzpatrick born May 28, 1992 and April Fitzpatrick born April 12, 1997). They are Sara�s grandchildren (born to her son Tim Fitzpatrick and his wife Lucinda Payne who had married on Oct 5, 1986). All in all, the years in Virginia with Mary Catherine allowed him to enjoy many family gatherings that included the entire Flythe clan. When Norman�s mobility and memory failed, he moved to the Hermitage of Northern Virginia where he lived his final days in the care and comfort of this fine nursing home run by the Methodist Church.

Contributed by:  Mary Catherine Flythe and Sara Flythe Fitzpatrick


©2010-2014 Kenneth Wayne Odom, Jr., Thomas Elder Davis, the NCGenWeb, Inc. and/or individual contributors. No portion of any document appearing on this site may be used for other than personal research. Any republication or reposting is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the owner. Last updated 30 Sep 2012.