What is the measure of a man? When Norman Weir was born in 1929 in the humble little town of North Shields on the rugged northeastern coast of England, there was not a lot of anything to go around. His father, James, was a paper-hanger and painter, and his mother, May, was dedicated to taking care of their little family. A brother, Jimmy, was born, and then a sister, Mavis. In the early ’40’s, WWII was raging, and after many bombing raids, the children were evacuated to the English countryside to live on a farm until it was safe to go home. When Norman was 19, his second sister, Kathleen, was born. As a very young man, he joined the Royal British Navy and worked as a stoker. He escaped death after falling 40 feet into the hold of his vessel and suffering a severely fractured skull. A few years later, he contracted tuberculosis, and was sent to the Naval hospital. He was the only man to survive the disease out of the 20 others on that ward, during a time when there were no antibiotics to treat them.
Norman went on to work as a mechanical engineer. In December, 1953, he met Eithne Mary Kerins, a midwife-trainee from Ireland. He switched her place card so that he could sit next to her at dinner that night. They were married in June of 1956, 61 1⁄2 years ago. Norman had always loved babies, and over the next ten years, their first six children, Sherwin (Robert Ferguson), Aidan (Susan), Amanda (John Buoni), Declan (Jean Marie), Brendan (Marci) and Michael (who passed on in 2005), were born. The family lived in Coventry and then moved to Thornbury. He received a job offer from Boeing that was too good to refuse, so in January of 1966 Norman and his family, the youngest only 3 months old, emigrated to America on the U.S.S. United States liner. A new country, a new job, a home in Swarthmore (where they lived until 2003) and three more children: Karen, Andrew (Tessie) and Brian, completed their American dream. Designing fuel systems for helicopters at Boeing was the perfect job for Norman. Over the course of his employment there, which lasted about 35 years, he designed many projects, including an aerial refueling boom and the fuel system for the Osprey Helicopter or the “Tilt-Rotor,” as he called it. It has been said that he was personally responsible for bringing varsity soccer to Swarthmore High School.
Always interested and engaged, he was known to play soccer and rugby, ski, play chess, do complex calculus equations in his head, tell amazing stories of years gone by, putter in the garden, do battle with marauding squirrels, wallpaper and paint every surface of his home, make delicious lasagna, cheesecake, bouillabaisse or chocolate chocolate cake, pray earnestly, sing boisterously and celebrate every one of his 18 grandchildren. His joy was completed with Amanda (who passed on in 2014) and Sara Ferguson; A.J., Tristan and Maddie Weir; Rachel, Brendan, Claire and Arwen Buoni; Emily, Ethan, Colleen and Molly Weir; Patrick and Kenny Weir; as well as Maliah, Joshua and Caleb Weir.
The measure of man is not in what he has, but in what he leaves behind him. He leaves a legacy of love, laughter, loyalty, unselfishness and song. He leaves 27 people who would not have been on this earth if he had died as a young man, which by all odds he should have. But God had a different plan. Though he was only 5’4”, Norman Weir was a giant among men. As his grandchildren have their own families, his story will continue past his almost 89 years, influencing us and encouraging us to love each other, do what is right, and to put God and our families ahead of all else. It was a life well-lived.