RICHMOND—Martha Norris Gilbert died December 1, 2020. She was brought home December 8, 2020, after a 66-year odyssey of successes and tribulations. Martha was buried in the Calvary Memorial Cemetery next to her late husband, Robert “Bobby” Gilbert, who died in December 2011.
Martha left Kilmarnock in 1954 to enter Hampton Institute. She graduated with honors in 1958 and immediately went to New York City. There, she taught preschoolers at the prestigious Dalton School and the Manhattan Country School where she subsequently served on the board of trustees.
In 1977, she joined her childhood friend, the abstract painter Betty Blayton Taylor, at the Harlem Children’s Art Carnival that Betty had founded. She served as educational director there until 1981.
In 1982, Martha was recruited by the forward-thinking Governor of Virginia, Charles Robb, to head a new agency that he had created, The Department for Children. After nine years, Martha moved to the Virginia Department of Education and initiated the preschool program for at-risk four-year olds.
In 1996, she was appointed director of special projects and personnel for Powhatan County. Her career was cut short in 2000 by a diagnosis of lung cancer. Subsequently, she had a series of serious illnesses that diminished her characteristic sparkle, but not her spirit. She remained pleasant and affable to the last days of her life, always smiling and never failing to acknowledge the slightest gesture of kindness.
Martha Anne Anita Norris was born April 24, 1938, the youngest of nine children of the the late Dr. Morgan E. and Theresita Norris. Her father, a native of Lancaster County, started a medical practice in Kilmarnock in 1917. Her mother was a homemaker, pianist, church organist and community worker. Martha inherited the graciousness and charm of her mother and the resoluteness of her father.
She attended the Morgan E. Norris Elementary School in Kilmarnock and graduated from the A. T. Wright High School in 1954.
The single motivating factor in Martha’ s life was the well-being of children. She succinctly captured this sentiment in one of her many speeches: “Children are a powerless constituency. They cannot commentate with legislators, exercise that power at the ballot box, or influence decisions that affect their lives…An investment in children, human and financial, is an investment in the future of America.”
Her loss is mourned by a brother, James E. C. Norris, M.D. (Motoko) of New York City; a step-daughter, Dina Gilbert, of Charlotte, N.C; godsons, David Randolph, M.D. (Renita) of Richmond and David Richardson, Esq. (Lynn) of Austin, Texas; nine nieces and nephews, 13 grandnieces and grandnephews; a great-grandnephew and two great-grandnieces; many cousins; and many, many friends.