One of the very last things Jean Norwood ever did was help keep Vancouver beautiful. In December, she saw to it that the Vancouver Women’s Club, of which she was a longtime member, donated $5,000 to an arboretum on Old Evergreen Highway that’s always in need of help.
It was a fitting bookend to a long and dedicated life. Norwood, who died Feb. 3 at age 95, was serving on the Vancouver City Council in 1962 when the infamous Columbus Day Storm devastated the city’s trees. She was instrumental in helping the city recover by developing a new landscaping ordinance that got smart, appropriate placement of trees and by seeing to it that thousands of street trees started getting back into the ground.
She went on to help found a little arboretum at the east end of Officers Row, which eventually moved a few miles farther east to Old Evergreen Highway. There, Norwood’s longtime friend and admirer Kelly Punteney is still pursuing their shared vision of a public park rich with trees, gardens, pathway connections and one of Clark County’s most historic buildings.
Punteney is overseas right now, but he said via Facebook that Norwood was a “dynamic leader” who could always be relied on.
On Norwood’s 90th birthday, May 2, 2009, Punteney said, the first witness tree at what’s now the Jane Weber Evergreen Arboretum went into the ground in her honor. Since then, he said, May 2 has always been the occasion of a work party and then a birthday party for Norwood at the arboretum.
Plans had already been underway for another birthday celebration this coming May 2, he said. “We will now use that occasion to celebrate her long and productive life,” he said.
Norwood, born in Wenatchee in 1919, served on the Vancouver City Council from 1960 to 1967. During that time, she spearheaded the bond levy that paid for construction of the Marshall Community Center and what’s now the former Vancouver City Hall building on C Street.
She was on the YWCA Clark County board of directors and served as president from 1981 to 1983; she was named a “Woman of Achievement” by the Y in 1991. She was a founder and longtime leader of Vancouver’s Urban Forestry Commission, and won the Silva-Bolds Whitfield Urban Forestry Award in 1997. And she received the Margaret Colf Hepola Award from the Clark County Historical Society in 2012 for contributions to local history. Norwood was a trustee as well as president of the historical society board, and spent hundreds of hours developing an oral history collection at the society’s museum, according to Columbian files.
“She was a woman of tremendous accomplishments and energy,” said her friend Joyce Kilpatrick, who worked alongside her at the YWCA. “She was very active in the environmental arena and in community service in general. She was a very special soul.
“She was also somewhat forgetful,” Kilpatrick added. “More than once I remember going back with her to try to find a coat or purse or something she left at some meeting.”
Which only underscores, Kilpatrick said, that Norwood was always attending some meeting or other. “Her mind was all over the place because she had so much going on,” Kilpatrick said.
Kilpatrick posted on Facebook: “RIP Jean. You and Val can organize heaven.” Norwood’s good friend Val Ogden, another notable community leader here — and a fellow Woman of Achievement in 1991 — died last year.
Norwood was married to Gus Norwood for 65 years, and the couple had five children. Gus died in 2006 at age 90.
In fact, one of the many notable things about this notable life is the name the couple chose to share, and how it honors nature. According to Columbian files, when Jean Neander met Gustav Smeja, he was a proud U.S. Naval Academy graduate who’d gotten tired of people butchering his last name. Getting married was the name-changing chance of a lifetime for him as well as her, he realized, so instead of insisting that she become Jean Smeja, he compiled a list of possibilities and let her choose their new last name.
She liked Norwood, because of its leafy greenness. It reminded her of northern forests and the first line of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem “Evangeline,” she said: “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks / Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight …”
Norwood is survived by four of her five children: Douglas, Valerie, Eric and Barbara. She was preceded in death by daughter Emily. There are seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A private graveside service is planned at Evergreen Memorial Gardens Funeral Chapel, with plans for a public memorial to be announced later.