Ruth Dill Norman, 47, Our Friends' Place director

June 11, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Ruth Dill Norman, who combined a certain care, toughness, wit and "a few tears" to counsel families and neglected or abused women at Our Friends' Place, died Thursday of cancer at her northwest Baltimore home.

Ms. Norman, 47, had worked at the Southwest Baltimore family support center since 1990, when she started as a social worker. She became director in 1993, but health problems forced her to retire last year.

"She cared about people," said Shirley Brown of Baltimore, her partner and longtime friend. "She had the gift of making ordinary people feel special. Her main asset was her respect for people."

Ms. Norman had a commanding presence and was always calm and direct when she counseled people who came to the West Hamburg Street facility, friends and colleagues said.

Our Friends' Place is affiliated with the St. Jerome's Head Start program and Associated Catholic Charities and offers counseling and support to families and individuals seeking help.

Ms. Norman also taught adult education and parent classes, and she counseled women in self-esteem.

"Part of her job was to re-parent the parents," said Mary Gunning, a colleague and director of St. Jerome's Head Start program. "She possessed a unique blend of tough love and nurturing."

"In many cases she was the first positive role model for many women."

A renovated building at the St. Jerome's facility was dedicated to her last month.

A lifelong Baltimore resident, Ms. Norman graduated from Edmondson High School in 1968 and earned an associate of arts degree from the former Community College of Baltimore in the 1970s.

She graduated in 1988 from Coppin State College with bachelor's degrees in social work and social science and received a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland at Baltimore in 1991.

The former Ruth Dill married Larry Norman in 1973. In 1974, she and Mr. Norman, who was in the military, moved to Thailand for more than a year. While there, she taught English to Thai citizens.

Ms. Norman and her husband divorced in the late 1970s but remained close friends.

Charles Ellison, who stayed in touch with Ms. Norman after she counseled him and his wife in 1991, said she was always honest.

"She put her heart into what she said. It may not be what you want to hear, but it always made sense," he said. "She was a good person, she'd scold you or she'd shed a few tears with you. What she said was always from the heart."

A Mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 10: 30 a.m. today at St. Jerome's Roman Catholic Church, 775 W. Hamburg St.

She is survived by her mother, Alice Dill; and a sister, Doris McCleod. Both are of Baltimore.

Donations may be made to the Cancer Center of the University of Maryland Medical Center, 22 S. Greene St., or to Our Friends' Place, 775 West Hamburg St., where a scholarship will be established in Ms. Norman's name.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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