In Memoriam: Norman Eddy

We were saddened to learn of the passing of Rev. Norman Cooley Eddy on June 21, 2013. Norm, as he was affectionately known, was an AFS Ambulance Driver during World War II and an AFS International Life Trustee. We will always be grateful for Norm’s many contributions to AFS and to his fellow men and women. He will be greatly missed. Norm’s family asked us to share the biography that appears below which was written in his memory.

We also include a link to the feature story about him that appeared in the May 2010 edition of the AFS Janus and a link to a preview of a film about Norm’s life that Mr. Jan Albert is currently working on:

AFS Janus May 2010 Edition
Norm's life - video by Jan Albert

The Rev. Mr. Norman Cooley Eddy

The Rev. Mr. Norman Cooley Eddy died peacefully at St Luke’s Hospital in NYC on Friday June 21, 2013 of old age. He was 93 years old.

Norman Eddy in his AFS Uniform in 1943Norm was born at home to Stanley and Alice (Hart) Eddy and was raised in New Britain, CT, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, MA in Hart Haven and later on Abel's Hill in Chilmark. He attended the Shuttle Meadow (now Mooreland Hill) School which his mother helped found. 

Between attending Pomfret School and college, he had the opportunity to spend a year at Stowe School in Buckingham, England and to travel around Europe where he learned about Nazi Germany.  At Yale University, Norm was a seeker of truth which made him an oddball.  While in Europe on summer vacation in 1939, he and his brother had to make a hasty and unexpected departure just as war was declared between Germany and Poland. Norm was a pacifist and during the summer of 1940 went to Cuba for two months with the American Friends Service Committee and lived with 50 Jewish refugees, teaching them English and preparing them to apply for visas to the U.S.  There he experienced the Quaker worship and the Friday night Jewish services.

Photo caption: Eddy in his AFS Uniform in 1943

In February 1942, with half his classmates about to be drafted without receiving their degrees, Norm helped organize various student leaders to convince the Dean to allow them to get their diplomas without completing their last semester. As a way to combat Hitler without killing, Norm joined the American Field Service, to serve in a volunteer ambulance corps. His squad was attached to the British 8th Army, serving in Egypt, Libya, Italy and Austria.   In the summer of 1943, as the AFS ambulances returned from Palmyra (Syrian Desert), Norm had a spiritual experience on the road to Damascus.  He was engulfed by the love, truth, and beauty of the divine and he experienced the unity of all creation even in the midst of the horrible war.   From that experience, Norm’s purpose in life became clear -- to live by the Holy Spirit and to uncover Spirit within each and every person.

This led to a period (1945 to 1948) of studying many religions, visiting monasteries, Quaker communities, and Krishnamurti.  Norm also attended University of Connecticut with plans to become a blueberry and apple farmer. He was influenced by the writings of Bishop Grundtvig of the 18th century in Denmark who successfully organized farmers to move the entire country out of poverty through adult education programs called Folk Schools.  Free adult education is still operative in Denmark today.

In the fall of 1948 he began full-time study at Union Theological Seminary and decided that while he believed that God could be experienced through any spiritual tradition, he would return to his religion of origin and study to become a Congregational minister.  This choice was life-changing. It took him to East Harlem for field work with the East Harlem Protestant Parish where he met a dynamic woman named Peggy Ruth (Margaret Lindsay Ruth), who was also studying at Union and was equally committed to issues of social justice and activating well-being in the community.  Peg and Norm married in 1950, were ordained in 1951 and became co-pastors until 1956 of a little storefront church they founded on East 100th Street (merging later with other storefront churches to become The Church of the Resurrection).  They raised their three children in tenements on East 100th Street, and, beginning in 1970, in a brownstone on East 105th Street where Norm lived until his death.  Norm’s heart was always on 100th Street. Norm and Peg devoted their lives together to spiritual coordination, prayer networks, Biblical storytelling, and community activism. They were instrumental in guiding gangs to become social organizations. This work led naturally to assisting with prison reform; Norm continued to correspond with inmates, some for over 40 years, until his death.

In 1949 Norm was named a Life Trustee of the American Field Service, now AFS.  As part of his lifetime goal to create worldwide peace, he was very committed to the goals of the international exchange organization for students and adults that eventually grew to operate in more than 50 countries.  Whenever he traveled with the family to foreign countries, he made a point of meeting with parents who were about to send their child to the U.S. to make them feel more at ease.  He was honored on the 50thAnniversary of the founding of AFS in both Denmark and New Zealand in about 1997.

Norm and Peg were known for their compassionate action groups beginning with the Christian Economic Group which worked with community members to establish the first independent inner city credit union in NY. They, and others, went on to form the East Harlem Protestant Parish Narcotics Committee in 1956.  Through the Narcotics Committee, he was instrumental in advocating for addicts and their families a major change the New York State law, shifted narcotics use from being a crime to being treated as a medical condition, known as the Metcalf-Volker bill of 1961.

Norm was deeply moved by Gandhi and chose non-violent action his entire life.   He intuitively knew that Martin Luther King, Jr. was Ghandi’s successor.  Norm also had profound respect for the laws of this country and talked daily about the importance of active democracy. Indeed, he became a highly skilled behind-the-scenes political campaigner. He was invited to advise, help with, or appeal to Mayors Wagner, Lindsay and Koch, and President Jimmy Carter. While Norm’s preference was to work on racism in the North in East Harlem, when he received a direct call from King’s office asking him to join the interfaith clergy in civil disobedience in Albany, GA, he left to support the action. Norm spoke on the steps of the court house and was arrested, an event canonized in a cartoon by Herb Block.

In 1963, Norm was hired by New York City Mission Society – Cooperating Christian Churches and for the next 20 years he helped community members establish significant changes in housing and urban renewal.  He and residents of 100th Street formed the Metro North Citizens’ Committee, a pioneer organization helping local residents take control of their lives, from improving apartment living conditions to the planning of new types of public housing. A result of the publicity surrounding these efforts on East 100th Street led to a New York Times article, “The Worst Block in NY City,” which brought greater attention to these issues. Dan Wakefield also wrote of East 100th Street in his book, Island in the City.  Norm was also one of the founders of the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers, a city-wide organization. 

Desirous of, and active with, interfaith initiatives long before many clergy, Norm created East Harlem Interfaith in 1968. Volunteers from many faith communities implemented programs that affected the lives of thousands of East Harlem residents, and inmates in prisons.
Once Norm “retired” in 1983, he and Peg helped form what is now called the East Harlem Urban Center and they supported the work of the organization in a volunteer capacity.

Norm was a mentor to many and he constantly challenged people to live their lives guided by the Holy Spirit.  He was saddened that we have yet to eradicate poverty on our earth, as he held the firm belief that it was possible to be free from poverty if people in poverty become leaders in finding solutions.  His philosophy of empowering others was to challenge everyone to study issues deeply, pray about the issues in groups, and formulate action plans to bring about positive change.  This work was even done in the Eddy’s living room in the “School of Faith” affiliated with New York Theological Seminary.

Photo caption: Rev. Norman Eddy, with Vincenzo Morlini (left) and Tachi Cazal (right), at AFS International Headquarters in 2011

Norm has received numerous other awards over the years.  On the occasion of his 90th birthday, he and Peg were awarded a Congressional Citation by Representative Carolyn Maloney for their decades of service to East Harlem.  In honor of Norman Eddy, we ask each person to consider what can be done today to educate, nurture dialogue, and move our worldwide communities into economic and socio-emotional health.

In reflecting on his life, Norm Eddy felt he himself had accomplished little but he did recognize his gift of being able to “coordinate people for compassionate action.” It started with youth with his large, extended family, and intensified when he helped the drafted Yale students get their degrees. He learned from his war experiences that uneducated everyday people often have the most practical solutions that work best.  He told a metaphor for his life work from one episode in WW II when only a farmer with his oxen could move his ambulance from a deep rut after two high-powered tanks had tried failed.  He set forth to be a farmer who was proud to harness the strength of humans with any degree of education to have an impact around the world.

This spiritually-driven community activism continues now at New York Theological Seminary with the Margaret and Norman Eddy Program Center for Spiritual Coordination and Community Well-being.  The Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel declares “The Micah Institute at NYTS was honored to celebrate Norm Eddy’s life by awarding him our Justice Award in 2011 and will seek to carry on his spirit in our work, including his vision and practice of spiritual coordination.”

Norm and Peg’s approaches to education were unique and included lessons on planned pregnancy for young women, the development of the East Harlem Block Schools, and the building of the Hunter School building on the Park Ave Armory site.

There will be a wake and viewing on Friday, June 28, 2013, 5 PM to 8 PM at the Church of the Resurrection 325 E. 101 St., NY, NY 10029

The Funeral Service is Saturday, June 29 11 AM also at the Church of the Resurrection.
A private burial service will be held over Labor Day weekend in Chilmark.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to: New York Theological Seminary Margaret and Norman Eddy Program Center for Spiritual Coordination and Community Well-being. 425 Riverside Drive Suite 500 New York, NY 10115 A portion of these funds will be directed toward Jan Albert’s completion of the film on the his work in East Harlem.