Norma Bowler Pringleton (98) of Virginia Beach joyfully joined her Lord and Savior on September 14, 2021. Norma Irene was born in Manhattan, New York on 11 August 1923 to H. Elbert Bowler and Rosaline Squibb Bowler. Norma was raised by her aunt, Ivy Squibb Thompson in New Canaan, Connecticut after the untimely death of her father at age 30. She graduated from New Canaan High School, graduated from Rhodes Business College, and completed courses in Personnel Management at University of Maryland. She often shared memories of her childhood and life as a young woman in Connecticut and New York City: ballet lessons, ice skating, and riding trolley cars and double-decker buses. Norma was confident, outspoken, and devoted to her faith.
Her career in business and personnel, and civil rights activism spanned three decades. In the 1940s, she worked as a stenographer for then NY District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey, famous for his presidential election loss to Harry S. Truman in 1948. She worked closely with civil rights activist, A. Philip Randolph; and Thurgood Marshall, first black justice appointed to the Supreme Court. On Saturdays, she carried a small ladder into the middle of Harlem encouraging passers-by to write down the names and buy products from companies she had researched that hired people of color in decent paying positions. She volunteered at the YWCA in Harlem teaching free classes to minority girls ages 16-18 in: How to Talk, Dress, and Make Up Correctly, How to Create a Resume, and How to Conduct Yourself in a Job Interview. Her first marriage to Clifton C. White in 1947 ended in divorce in 1953.
In the 1940s and early 1950s, Norma was one of the only black executive secretaries working for high level executives of major corporations in NYC. Hired as a personnel assistant, she was the first person of color to work in a professional capacity at the New York Times. She worked closely with Clifton Daniel, managing editor of the New York Times and his wife, Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S. Truman. Serving as executive assistant to Edward F. Boyd at Pepsi-Cola International, 500 Park Avenue, she was a member of Boyd's team assembled to promote Pepsi-Cola to the black community. To counter racism and black stereotypes, the team commissioned advertisements showing African Americans as fun-loving middle-class consumers living the American dream. Norma worked with Al Steele, CEO of Pepsi-Cola International from 1949-1959; and was well acquainted with his wife, Joan Crawford, actress.
Most of her friends and acquaintances were prominent members of the NAACP, Ebony Magazine, and the National Urban League. She was acquainted with Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues - Brooklyn Dodgers; Paul Robeson, lawyer, singer, actor, and civil rights activist; and Broadway actresses Mary Martin and Lena Horne. She knew well Vice President Hubert Humphrey under Lyndon Johnson; Malcolm X, civil rights activist; and Lester Granger, Director of the National Urban League. She was administrative assistant to Honorable Robert L. Levister, the first African American named to the Connecticut Superior Court. Norma watched Babe Ruth play ball at the old Polo Grounds before Yankee Stadium was built. She saw Joe Lewis defeat Max Schmeling in the 1st round at Madison Square Garden. She attended jazz, ballet, and opera performances at Carnegie Hall, opening night shows on Broadway, and the World Series from box seats; all thanks to tickets provided by her employers, the New York Times and Pepsi-Cola.
In the 1960s Norma's career with the US Department of State, Diplomatic Foreign Service included executive and administrative assistant positions supervising Americans, locals, and 3rd country nationals in Africa, France, Korea, and Philippines. She was well acquainted with Presidents William Tubman and Edwin Barclay (Liberia, West Africa); President and Mrs. Park Chung Hee (Korea); and President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., and Imelda Marcos (Philippines).
In 1966, with the war raging in Vietnam, Norma volunteered to serve as Personnel Officer in Saigon and Danang, reporting directly to US Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. She frequently flew by small plane low over the treetops to avoid gunfire and carried a carbine over her shoulder during the Tet Offensive (1968). In Danang, Norma met her husband, Col. John Beeson (U.S. Army - WWII, Korean War, Vietnam). Married in 1968, Col. Beeson predeceased her in 1979.
She is predeceased by her beloved husband of 30 years, Leonard Pringleton whom she married in 1983. She is survived by her loving stepdaughter, Brenda (nee Beeson) and husband Jim Johnson of Birmingham, AL. Norma considered precious her adopted family, Janice Schuler-Rivas and Frank Rivas, and faithful and dear friends, Shirley Reckley and her family, Mairi Fredericks, Ronald Jenson, and Corinthia Picou.
Her adopted family would like to thank everyone who helped Norma in her final years including Michael Reckley; caregivers Ellenita Torres, Ruth and Adam Koch, and the devoted hospice volunteers of Westminster Canterbury at Home including but not limited to Dr. Kasey Henderson, Casey Porter, Micheline Meyer, Amber Tolley, Dawn Freeman, Pastor Nikki Weikel, and Madison Lewis.
At a date to be determined, Norma will be interred with her beloved Leonard in a small service at Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, 6309 E. Virginia Beach Blvd., Norfolk, Virginia.
Published by The Virginian-Pilot on Sep. 26, 2021.