Norma Jean Brown

Thursday, November 11, 2021
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Norma Jean Brown, 85, a longtime Laurel resident, passed away on October 22, 2021 at St. John’s United The Crossings after battling serious health issues for several years.

Norma was born on Aug. 16, 1936, in Glendive, Montana, the daughter of Harry and Elizabeth (Matchette) Brown. Around 1950, Harry moved the family to Laurel for his work on the railroad. Norma graduated from Laurel High School in 1956 as a leading member of G.A.A. and other school organizations.

In the 1960s, Norma worked as an aide at various Montana hospitals, including Billings Deaconess (now Billings Clinic) and the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. She moved to California in 1968, where she attended a local college to earn her state psychiatric technician licensure, starting a career at Napa State Hospital to care for children and adults with often severe behavioral and mental health issues.

Always busy and blessed, Norma also drove a local DART bus and a San Francisco Airport Shuttle from Fairfield, California, where she employed her enthusiastic people skills to become a highly popular driver with both public transport systems. In 1989, she narrowly escaped the deadly collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland during the Loma Prieta earthquake—she credited game three of that year’s World Series between the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants for clearing out the typical commuter traffic and letter her deliver her passengers to the Oakland Airport safely just ahead of the 6.9-magnitude trembler.

After her retirement, Norma returned to her Laurel roots in 1993. Here she’s fondly remembered for her compassionate heart, generous spirit, and willingness to help anyone in need. She was a devoted member of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Silver Crowns. As a cancer survivor, she proudly walked in the annual Relay for Life to support cancer research; she became the event’s top fund raiser each time she participated.

A fiercely independent force of Nature, Norma lived on her own until health concerns necessitated a move to The Crossings about a month before her death. She was very grateful to her friends and church community for helping her maintain her independence for so long. She loved playing cards and bingo, rooting for the Raiders and the Niners, and giving away boxes of Brockel’s candies. She had a dry wit and a reputation as a prankster—at one family wedding reception, she handcuffed the groom to his brother to the great amusement of all the guests (except the bride’s mother).

She is survived by her “kid,” Jean Matthias (Sean) Breheney of San Jose, California; her sister Shirley Conner, niece Debbie (Bruce) Poulin, and nephews Gary (Chrissy) Conner, Glenn Conner and Bryan Conner, all of the Seattle, Washington area; and her sister Diane Hartman, nieces Wendy (Carlton) Billingsly, Loralie (Denton) Campbell, and nephew Ty Hartman, all of Missoula; niece Collette (Zac) Kothbauer of Spokane, Washington; and niece Michelle (Dan) Rockham of Salmon, Idaho. Also surviving are numerous grand nieces and nephews, plus many treasured friends.

She was preceded in death by her longtime companion Alice “Pat” Matthias, brother-in-law Robert Conner, and her parents.

A memorial service was held on October 25, 2021, at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, with Pastor Jayson Nicholson officiating. Cremation has taken place, and interment will be in the Laurel Cemetery. Memorials may be made to Our Savior’s Lutheran Church or St. John’s United The Crossings. Norma’s family is deeply grateful to the staff of The Crossings and St. John’s Hospice, the Our Savior’s Lutheran Church community and the dear friends who helped us through difficult times.

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