by Henry Lane Hull
In 1987 I wrote a column on John Alonzo Norris, known to most folks as Lonzie, but to our family as Alonzo. He would say that he liked our using his given name, especially as we were alone in that practice.
Alonzo died that spring, leaving behind an extended collateral family, which included his brother, Emerson, who lived next door. Both Alonzo and Emerson were noted for their inherent wisdom, which they readily shared with anyone who would listen.
Emerson and his wife, Grace, had a large family of their own, and both of them were hard workers. Most evenings after working all day, Emerson would go to Theodore Byrd’s barber shop on Route 3 north of Kilmarnock where he cut hair for several more hours. He said with his large family he had to like work, which he did.
Among Emerson’s children was his daughter, Joyce, who after growing up in the suburbs of Wicomico Church, married and left the area for her professional career, first in New York, then in Philadelphia, Detroit and finally in Washington. In the capital she came to work at the Harvard Club, situated in the Christian Heurich Mansion.
In that venue Joyce shined brilliantly with her sparkling personality, and she remained there until she retired back to Wicomico Church in 2016. Christian Heurich was a German beer maker who came to Washington and made his career and his fortune in the late 19th century. His brewery, built in 1894, was one of the grandest Victorian structures in the Nation’s Capital, and the home of Senate beer. It was razed to make way for the Kennedy Center, which pales when architecturally compared to the brewery. In its final iteration the brewery served as the first home of the Arena Stage.
Heurich built his mansion on New Hampshire Avenue near Dupont Circle, and lived there until his death in 1945 at the age of 102. The building then passed to the Columbia Historical Society, which leased space to other non-profits such as the Harvard Club, prior to the Society’s selling the property in 2003. Joyce was enthralled by the history of the mansion, and enjoyed giving tours to visitors and those who belonged to the different societies headquartered there. She truly was in her element, surrounded by history.
With his great wealth, Heurich had built a row of houses, demolished in the 1960s, across the alley from the mansion. On the end house, he had installed a massive sundial in order that he could see the time by looking out his library window. All of that lore was part of Joyce’s vocabulary.
When she returned to the Northern Neck, Joyce found her familiar niche in the world waiting for her. She proved Thomas Wolfe to be wrong in writing that one cannot go home again. She was happy to be here, and particularly found joy and comfort in being part of the Mount Olive Church community where her family antecedents had been stalwarts for generations.
Last week Joyce died after a debilitating illness that curtailed many of her charitable and church activities. Hers was a bright light in her family, her church, her community and her profession. Sadly, her retirement was brief, but rewarding to her and those who knew her. In that respect she truly reflected her family heritage and gave it added luster.
Joyce Norris Wilson, February 22, 1942 – September 4, 2019. R.I.P.