Norris Pike remembered

Fri, 12/01/2017 - 10:00am
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F. Norris Pike, a beloved figure on Block Island for his lifetime of public service, his friendship with many, and unlimited affection for his island home and family, passed away peacefully on Friday, Nov. 24, surrounded by those whom he loved, and who loved him. 

Pike had been battling cancer for several years. True to his own self, he remained committed to the town by serving as Second Warden up until the time of his death. He was 65. 

The Block Island Times reached out to his friends and colleagues for their remembrances: Here are some of them:

Barby Michel, retired second grade teacher, recalling a parent-teacher conference when Norris said something about his daughter Lily:

Norris just looked at me and said — with so much love — ‘Isn’t she a peach?’ And she was! I never forgot it.

Jimmy Collins, a childhood friend:

Sherry Carley’s father told me a funny story. This was when Norris was about five, six years old. My uncle was working with Ray Boudreau to repair something on the north side of the old Florida House. My uncle was on a ladder and Norris brought his brother Fred in tow and asked my uncle if he could borrow some of the junk lumber that was in a pile. He had this little squeaky voice. Ray said of course, take whatever you’d like. Norris got this junk lumber and started building a dock at Harbor Pond. He was the boss of his brother for that job: “Come on, Freddie, we gotta go to work!” I always think of that, smiling. I can imagine Norris being enamored of the building materials. That’s always been the cute little story when I think of my friend Norris.

Michael and Allison Anderson:

When we think of Norris we think of his true understanding of Island living, both in his building design and his life. When we asked him to design and build our home, he drove us around the island in his truck, pointing out different architectural features asking, “Do you like those windows?” Or “How about that roof line?” Or, “No, you can’t have that, it won’t fit into the Island architecture!” He was very protective of his Island and wanted to preserve its natural beauty. He was a good man.

God’s speed Norris! 

From Nancy Dodge:

Hard to compress over 50 years of friendship with Norris. His first solo building project was an addition to my parents’ house. He danced at our wedding in the 1970s... we shared late nights at the Planning Board when I was the solicitor in the eighties. He and George shared tales of old island characters — their voices Norris could imitate perfectly and hilariously in the telling. In recent times he helped keep me calm when I needed to be — “Don’t get that O’Connell Irish up now” — followed by some comment that could only make one laugh.

Norris was involved in public service from his early days despite the time commitment — and remains the only Council member to be referenced in People magazine (during the moped wars)! Going in and out of elected or appointed office, he spent over 30 years working to better the energy future for the next generation and lived to see the creation of a ratepayer-owned utility almost a reality — in no small measure because of his efforts. 

As the poem goes: “Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world.”

Shirlyne Gobern:

He was always the calming voice in any storm.

Melissa Taylor wrote the following remembrance of Norris called “Deep Home:”

For a decade now this cozy cottage at the Sea Breeze Inn on Block Island has buffered me from the gusts of grief that have shaken my family tree. Looking out my bedroom window past the soaked, wavy timber of my front porch, over the top of banks of pendulous hydrangeas now subdued by autumn, around the weathered gardener’s shed leaning into its good hip, through the sedges bowed down before the wind, my gaze settles upon the infinity ponds now dimpled by this cleansing October rain. Seated at my writing desk, for me the most sacred of places, I fill my lungs with the earthy must of this island whose lore courses through my veins.

This is my deep home... here... now. I exhale.

When I breathe in again, it is for him... my favorite cousin, an Island son through and through. A cherub of a child, Norris made of his bicycle a winged thing. Here, there, and everywhere bringing joy, holding life lightly, he was then and is still a child of light. From one summer to the next, all that boyish sparkle was poured into a sturdy, full-bodied vessel of maturity, responsibility, and integrity. And that voice now coming from deep in the belly, and the manner of speaking so assured yet understated... the stuff of a leader. 

For the sterling qualities Norris has exuded from an early age, my wise and knowing mother would anoint him “the only true grown-up in our entire family.” He would become a designer and builder of homes that reflect the soul of the Island he so loved. A romantic and also a very married man, he would love deeply and bring children into the world... a daughter and a son and then a grandson who would time and time again ignite his own living flame. 

Her son being a giver beyond the call for the benefit of family, friends, and community, Norris’ mother Claire would confide in me “not once has he unloaded a burden on my front doorstep. No mother could ask for a finer son.” Sitting beside him now in his island cottage, I gently remind him, “At last this is your time to receive.” Then I recall a reciprocal moment when he visited me at my home in Carmel, and some matter of insignificance unduly preoccupied me. “Missy,” he said, “be brave... live large!” Indeed he has.

As I look out upon this familiar island landscape that yielded up our ancestors, his and mine, beginning in 1661, now I see only the glistening remaining after the plentiful rain on the drenched posts of my front porch, on the muted hydrangea blossoms, on the sliver of a new moon etched onto the door of the gardener’s shed, and all the way out upon the surface of the infinity ponds now serene as glass. 

And everywhere in all this beauty, I see you... my brave cousin Norris, larger than life... with whom I share this deep, deep sense of home.

Sue Black:

Norris, Norris, Norris... how can you put the right words into a short statement that sums up someone you’ve known for so long? I used to have a blast with him when we were young, sailing around the harbor, racing against Howie. Norris was a great sailor. Loved the water. Loved boats. A real waterman. I’ll really miss my ferry chats with him talking about that boat building school he wanted to help build after he retired. He was always a gentleman and a gentle man. He really did give so much to this community. People are not saying that just to be kind because he has passed. And he gave us two amazing kids who inherited his kind, generous, community-supporting nature. Loved him! What a guy!

From Edie Blane:

I have two things. When I heard Norris had passed I was in the midst of writing him a note thanking him for his three Ts: His time, talent, and treasure.

The other thing was, I was the Town Clerk when he made his famous motion to secede from Rhode Island. We went right to the top of the media list! My phone is ringing off the wall… everybody wanted to know: “What’s going on on Block Island?” All I did was answer the phone for a month. The most persistent was the state of Utah, who wanted us to secede and become an annex because they always wanted a shoreline!  

Norris and I didn’t always agree. But we said our piece and that was it. 

Former Town Councilor Allan MacKay:

We have had many laughs over the years both on and off the job. And over time we shared all the various things that make up a lifetime, both happy and otherwise. I will miss my bud. I think the town will miss him, too. Over many years Norris dedicated countless hours to the Island on numerous boards and as a member of the Town Council at various times. I have always known him to be thoughtful and prepared for whatever endeavor he took on. His influence was instrumental to issues that had substantial impacts on the island. The establishment of a Historic District and the Commission to oversee it; the preservation of Rodman’s Hollow; the ability to regulate the moped businesses was directly the result of the very controversial threat to secede from the State of Rhode Island, and was initiated by Norris. Some people will argue that that hurt our relationship with the State, but I believe that there would never have been any control over the mopeds without it.

Norris has an eye for appropriate island design, and a standard of quality that is second to none. When I first started working with him, if something I did was not up to that standard he would say, ‘Treat yourself to another one, Bud,’ which obviously meant do it over. When I was working on my own house, there were several occasions when I stopped and considered that I could not be doing whatever particular project I was doing by myself, had I not worked for Norris. He would always have everyone working separately and telling us, ‘Make yourself a Jimmy,’ named for our friend Jimmy Collins, which basically meant to build something to hold up the other end of the work piece. You’d be surprised at what one person can accomplish with the right Jimmy. Another ongoing conversation involved him telling me to do something that I considered to be beneath my level. I would say to him, ‘Can’t you get a kid to do that?’ This continued over the years, until one time, when I was working with him and Ernie Oliver. The first day on the job he told me to go down in this crawl space and pull out the old insulation. When I suggested that he get a kid to do that, he pointed out to me that I was the kid. 

Recently we’ve seen him as an ardent supporter of the wind farm and the town control of the power company. I recognize that all of the above were not universally supported, but I don’t believe that you could find anyone who would question that Norris’s motives were about anything other than his sincere love for and desire to make Block Island a better place as a year-round community.

It’s not as a boss, or coworker, that I think about Norris, but as a great friend.

From Joe Sprague:

Norris was just a good guy. He was pretty quiet. I’ve seen him get mad, but he got mad in a different way than I do. Everybody loved him, just look at his election results.

From Margie Comings, Chair of the Planning Board:

I had the pleasure of serving on the Planning Board for many years with Norris Pike. He had a way of connecting with people that helped make the Planning Board run smoothly even when the topic before us was contentious. His knowledge of Block Island was amazing and he used it judiciously to find solutions for current problems as we wrestled with writing/updating building ordinances so that they met state law and, yet, were appropriate for Block Island.

He was a master at dealing with controversial issues between homeowners…his good-natured humor and good-old-boy persona belied a very sharp brain that guided the different parties to a solution before they were really aware of what was happening.

These same characteristics were the ones that made him so valuable on the Town Council… an ability to get folks to come together and find a solution to the problem.  

He will be missed by all of us!

Former Town Councilor Dick Martin:

What I’d say about Norris? He was a great story teller of Island truth.

This report was compiled by Martha Ball, Cassius Shuman and Lars Trodson.