Norma G. (Hultgren) Sousa passed away peacefully on May 20, 2020, at the age of 89, in the home she loved in Edgartown. It was a bright, sunny day with beautiful blue skies. This was so fitting, as blue was her favorite color, and this particular day was chosen for her to go to be with God.
Norma was born Sept. 25,1930, in Meriden, Conn., to Gosta Torsten Hultgren and Tyra Lantz Hultgren, who had immigrated separately from Göteborg and Jönköping, Sweden, in the 1920s, and had settled in Wallingford, Conn. Norma was baptized in the Lutheran Church, and was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Wallingford for many years (her favorite hymn was “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”). Norma was always proud of her Swedish heritage, but she said she felt so lucky to have been born in the U.S., which she told us she knew was the greatest country in the world. She always flew the American flag with pride at her Edgartown home.
Norma grew up in Wallingford with her parents and three brothers. There she attended Lyman Hall High School. After high school, she went to work in the office of Wallace Silversmiths, a major manufacturer of sterling silver, where she met her future husband, Joseph Sousa, in the early 1940s. They were apart during Joseph’s service in the U.S. Army during World War II, but reunited after the war, and were married in Brewster, N.Y., in 1949, settling together in Wallingford, and raising four children, Joseph, Debra, David, and Bryan.
After the birth of her children, Norma worked at Stanley Judd, a division of Stanley Tools, for many years. She also worked at Safety Electric, where she was elected the first female union steward they had ever had. In that role, she successfully fought for better working conditions for her fellow workers. Throughout her life she was a champion of workers’ rights.
Norma moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1988 to be closer to her daughter Debbie, son-in-law Bob, and beloved grandson Scott. She loved her life on Martha’s Vineyard, and cherished her home in Edgartown, which Bob helped build. Her personality was evident in how she decorated her home. The walls were filled with pictures of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and artwork she bought in her travels and at Vineyard art shows. She painted the walls herself, installed the fences, planted bushes, and built the walkways herself from treasured found stones.
Norma worked for many years as an office manager at H.N. Hinckley and Sons in Vineyard Haven. She loved working for the Guyther family, and always said Nelson Guyther was the best boss she ever worked for. Norma was a very friendly, caring person, and enjoyed helping the many customers who came to Hinckley’s.
Norma loved children, and had an innate ability to teach and connect with them. She taught Sunday school at the Zion Lutheran Church in Wallingford, and on Martha’s Vineyard she volunteered as a reading mentor at the Edgartown School. She loved sharing her lifelong love of books with children; she really enjoyed reading books to them, and telling them how important it was to learn to read well. She later became a substitute teacher on the Vineyard, mostly working at the Edgartown School.
Norma was a great cook, and loved to feed people, especially those she loved. Her lemon meringue pie, apple crisp, Christmas cookies, and her awesome beef stew were second to none. She passed on her cooking skills and love of cooking to her daughter, Debbie, who has many fond memories of cooking with her. For many years, Norma was a member of the Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, where she happily served her homemade soups at the church’s Soup Suppers.
She also volunteered at Sail Martha’s Vineyard when it was beginning, for the Salvation Army, the Island Food Pantry, and the Edgartown Council on Aging’s food distribution for the elderly program.
Norma’s favorite beach was Squibnocket Beach in Chilmark. Shortly after moving to Martha’s Vineyard, she began driving up there on Saturday mornings with her dog, J.P., stopping first at Humphreys Bakery in West Tisbury to get a “Belly Buster” chocolate-covered cream doughnut and coffee. She would sit on the rocks with her dog, coffee, and doughnut, and bathe in the beauty of that exquisite beach. It was a very spiritual place for her. She called it “God’s Little Acre.”
Norma loved to walk, and the Vineyard provided many beaches and trails for her to explore. In her early 80s, she was still walking one or two miles a day on the bike path near her home. She also loved artwork, museums, and traveling to new places. After retiring, Norma began visiting the Edgartown Senior Center, where she joined the Dock Street Hookers, a rug-hooking group. There she found new friends and learned to create primitive-style hooked rugs. She went on to make many treasured, beautiful rugs for herself and her family.
Memories from Norma’s family
Debbie (daughter): Mom was an upbeat, positive person who was always encouraging, generous, enthusiastic, and very hard-working. She was very creative, and did things with a flair. When getting her four children ready for school before she went to work, she made hot cereal every day. She would stand outside our bedrooms, say “Rise and shine!” and begin singing “Lumpy Cereal,” a song she made up to get us up and ready for school.
She built snow forts with us, and I remember her building a campfire inside of one, and us roasting potatoes. Mom was a wonderful mother, but also my best friend. She was “the wind beneath my wings” in anything I wanted to try. She taught us to persevere through hard times. “This too shall pass” was one of her favorite quotes.
Bob (son-in-law): “Mrs. S.,” as I called her, was a big part of my life for many years. Never was there a time that she did not heavily praise the work I did on various projects. One of my passions is woodworking, and Mrs. S. eagerly contributed to my love of woodworking by making sure I had enough tools. For my birthdays and other holidays, she would always make sure she gave me a special tool for my hobby. I loved working on projects for her. I love her, and miss her very much.
Scott (grandson): Grandma Sousa has been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. From a young age, I took inspiration from her spirit, and was excited when I got a chance to spend time with her. When my parents were busy, we would go on adventures around town, seeing the Island sights and exploring the thrift store, which for me was an emporium of wonders. She was always supportive of my life aspirations, and did what she could to encourage me along the way. When I left for college, I could regularly expect care packages with fresh-baked cookies to arrive at my dorm (ginger and oatmeal raisin). I will never forget her determination, positivity in the face of adversity, rebel spirit, and adoring smile.
Melisa (granddaughter-in-law): “I loved her the first time I met her. She was so loving, yet incredibly feisty, and her family came above all else. She had a resilient and unstoppable spirit.”
David (son): As the matriarch of our family, Mom was known to our children as “Big Grandma,” a nickname that slowly grew on her. She deeply loved her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Never did she let a birthday or holiday go by without demonstrating her love to those who loved her. My mom was a Christian, and we take our comfort in the words of the Resurrection from the Book of Job: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” C.S. Lewis remarked that Christians never say goodbye, but rather, “See you later.” So, Ma/Big Grandma, we love you, and all look forward to seeing you again later.
Joseph (son): My mother taught me survival skills that have helped me throughout my life.
Susan (daughter-in-law): She was a very thoughtful mother-in-law. I loved her great laugh.
Norma is survived by her daughter Debra Yapp, and her husband Robert of West Tisbury; son Joseph Sousa, and his wife Susan of Wallingford; son David B. Sousa and his wife Heather, and grandchildren Noah Ethan, Zoe Grace, Wolfgang David, and Luther Gabriel of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and son Bryan, a native of Connecticut, and his family. She is also survived by her grandson Scott Yapp and his wife Melisa of Billerica; granddaughter Cheryl Kim and her husband Vincent and great-grandsons Jordan and Daniel of Southport, Conn.; grandson Joseph Sousa, his wife Lisa, and great-grandsons Joseph and Adam of Naugatuck, Conn. She is also survived by her brother Everett Hultgren and wife Nancy of Cheshire, Conn., and brother John Hultgren and wife Ruth of Surfside Beach, S.C. She was predeceased by her husband Joseph Sousa of Wallingford, and by her brother Milton Hultgren of Kennebunk, Maine.
Norma will be buried in a private family graveside ceremony in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Vineyard Haven. A celebration of her life will be announced at a later date.
In Norma’s memory, read a book to a child, bake your loved ones a special treat, or get a “Belly Buster” from Humphreys Bakery and enjoy it at Squibnocket Beach. Donations in her name can also be made to the Salvation Army online at salvationarmyusa.org/usn/ways-to-give.
For online guestbook and information, please visit ccgfuneralhome.com.