Rev. Norman J. Flythe
Norman Jason Flythe
December 18, 1916 - February 4, 2010
To a quiet man
who spoke not of himself and so left that to others.
The Early Years
Norman Flythe was born in Portsmouth,
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.
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
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
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
and graduated in three years with his AB in Religious Studies in 1943.
matured into a quiet man who lived by convictions and taught by example.
Upon graduating from college, he entered Union Theological Seminary in
and graduated in 1946. But,
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,
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
and to only one church in the town of
on the eastern shore of
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
did speak on matters of discipline and behavior, they had better listen.
As a minister in those days,
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,
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,
welcomed Catherine’s easy sociability and support as she joined him on
Do not, however, believe that
was without backbone and conviction. In 1953, while ministering
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.
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
Another notable milestone came in 1963-64
took a leave of absence from the church to get his Masters Degree in
Education from the University
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
With retirement came quiet adventure and achievement. In 1979, he moved
Carolina, so he could
pursue his genealogical research in Northampton
He stayed in Woodland
until 1990. During this time, he gardened with Catherine and joined her
at yard sales. He also became THE expert
genealogy concerning the population of Northampton County,
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
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
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
and joined the Holland’s
in Garner, NC. In addition to spending time with the grandchildren,
sang in the choir and played hand bells. The church was still the
linchpin in his life. During the 1990s
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.
After the death of his beloved Catherine,
took a 3-month missionary trip to
(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
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
80s 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
continued to research and document his genealogic projects. In the late
90s, 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 descendants, 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
Norman had helped
William Flythe trace his African American line to a slave owned by
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,
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
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
Norman J. Flythe Looking for
Norman Jason Flythe's 1936 Letter
to Joseph Thomas Flythe
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