Editorial – A sign of holiness

Norma Lewis was a patriot.
She was a servant leader.
She was a child of God.

Norma Lewis is pictured signing for Mass of the Air in 2014.
Norma Lewis, signing during “Mass of the Air.” (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

You might not know her name, but local readers have almost certainly seen her on WHAS 11, where she regularly provided the sign language interpretation for Mass of the Air since its first airing in Advent of 1977.

She semi-retired at age 95, though she still interpreted here and there until about a year ago.

Her life of service is the epitome of what Pope Francis calls a “saint next door” — an ordinary person living her faith every day, aiming for holiness in the simple tasks of life.

Maybe Norma Lewis was a little more than ordinary. Her faith and dynamic personality were the first things that sprang to mind when news of her Nov. 24 death spread around the Catholic community in Louisville.

She was a holy, faith-filled person, say those who knew and worked with her. But that holiness didn’t dampen her wicked sense of humor.

She cracked jokes at every turn and loved to do impressions. These things were integral to her happiness, she told The Record in a 2014 story:

“I have to laugh so I don’t cry. I’ve always said that and I will until the day I die.”

On March 12, 2014, Mayor Greg Fischer stopped by a taping of Mass of the Air to honor Lewis.

“The city is so proud of Ms. Lewis,” said the mayor as he presented the award. “She has been such a hero for so many years.”

The citation read, in part, “Norma Lewis has helped the spoken word come alive for countless individuals. … A grateful community honors her service which was always offered with a huge smile and an optimistic attitude.”

The pronouncement noted her decades of service interpreting for people in the court system, for Catholic worshippers, patients, students and voters.

Lewis’ life of service began very early.

She learned American Sign Language as a child when she went to live with an aunt and uncle who were deaf. She interpreted for them at the doctor’s office and other appointments and told them about the homily after Mass each Sunday.

She only stepped away from her service to the hearing impaired to serve her country.

At age 19, she joined the U.S. Navy during World War II. She worked in intelligence — tracking enemy submarines off the U.S. coastline from a base in Charleston, S.C.

This summer, Honor Flights Bluegrass honored Lewis and many other World War II veterans at Memorial Auditorium. Wearing her Navy cap at the jauntiest angle, just a week shy of 97, she said she still remembered the early days of the war and how it felt.

“Are we going to be successful?” she remembers asking herself. “It was really bad in the beginning. They were blowing up ships off our coast.”
“But it got better and better. We all did something important that needed to be done,” she said.

Norma Lewis certainly did something important that needed to be done, each day of her long life.

Through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, let Lewis, a saint next door, inspire us to do the same with the gifts and opportunities God has provided to us.

Marnie McAllister

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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