Norm’s smile, en­thu­si­asm, were truly one of a kind

Ap­pre­ci­a­tion: Nor­man Getsinger, 1919-2012


Though he is gone from this world, it just isn’t pos­si­ble for me to re­mem­ber Norm Getsinger without a smile on his face, and thus on mine. He man­aged to do that to all of us without a lot of ef­fort, or so it seemed. As he grew older the smile wrin­kles on his face got deeper. That’s about all the pass­ing years showed.

How many of us have seen a man in his 90s dressed up in green as a lep­rechaun, frol­ick­ing on the back of a car in the Saint Patrick’s Day pa­rade? Or the same man play­ing Scrooge, leap­ing joy­ously around the RAAC Theater stage at the con­clu­sion of Dicken’s “Christ­mas Carol?” He told me, much later, that he had wanted to play Scrooge since he first saw the play when he was 8 years old. Eighty-two years wait­ing for a part! How Norm en­joyed that part when he fi­nally got it. So did the au­di­ence!

Of course there were many other plays in which he starred in­clud­ing Neil Si­mon’s “What’s So Funny,” Chekhov’s “Mar­riage Pro­posal,” Mel­chior in the “Kings Play,” a king again in “The Shep­herds Play.” Norm was such a glo­ri­ous and en­thu­si­as­tic ham! He couldn’t re­sist a part if it was of­fered to him, or even if it hadn’t been. The last time I saw Norm he

was in the au­di­ence for the two “He­roes” per­for­mances a few weeks ago. “Hey man,” Norm said to me as I came up, “you’ve got to find us a play we can do to­gether.” He was smil­ing like al­ways but I knew he was com­pletely se­ri­ous.

“What about your leg?” I asked him, point­ing to the leg that had suf­fered the first stroke a cou­ple of months be­fore.

“I could feel my sec­ond toe for the first time yes­ter­day,” he said. “I’m get­ting bet­ter, man. You go find us a play to do to­gether.” I promised him I would.

It wasn’t just drama that Norm loved. There was Jo-an above ev­ery­thing else, even drama. (I don’t blame him for that.) There was mu­sic as well. I don’t know as much about that, but I do know that he was the Song Master at the Li­ons Club, where he and Emer­son Wil­liams led the troops in singing rol­lick­ing songs from the 1930s and ’40s. He acted as master of cer­e­monies for the Bland Mu­sic Con­test at Wendy’s theater ev­ery year for kids from all over the county and be­yond. Anything which had anything to do with mu­sic Norm wanted to help with. And un­til the last cou­ple of years, he played the pi­ano. I never heard him play, so don’t ask.

Su­per­im­posed over all of this was Norm’s aca­demic life. He was a grad­u­ate of Har­vard in 1941. Some 70 years later, while re­hears­ing for a play or mem­o­riz­ing his lines in Rap­pa­han­nock, Norm drove to D.C. ev­ery Tues­day for classes at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity. When I met him he had al­ready re­ceived a master’s de­gree in Asian stud­ies; he was work­ing on an­other one when he left us. He didn’t re­ally want an­other de­gree, though. Writ­ing one the­sis was enough, he said.

To my knowl­edge he only missed a class once in his aca­demic ca­reer and that was to be here for an ex­tra re­hearsal as Scrooge af­ter an ear­lier one was can­celled due to freez­ing rain. He took an “in­com­plete” in the course, he told me, but they let him make it up . . . that’s what he said. For cer­tain, Norm com­pleted many more classes than he needed to re­ceive an­other de­gree, if he had wanted one. He didn’t. But I’ll haz­ard a guess that he knew as much about what was go­ing on in China as any per­son at the school.

And ev­ery other Satur­day he spoke about China or U.S. China pol­icy at the Brother­hood of St. An­drew at Trin­ity Epis­co­pal Church, where he was a faith­ful parish­ioner.

Jenks Hob­son, the pas­tor of the church, has men­tioned more than once Nor­man’s jour­ney to an­other, bet­ter place. I am not a re­li­gious man. But Fri­day, I be­lieve, there was a gen­tle thun­der­storm at Old Rag (some­thing I have never seen be­fore), with quiet thun­der and a few sparks of light­ning. I thought I saw in the clouds high above the moun­tain a large old freight train cross­ing the sky in the rain. I won­dered if that train was tak­ing Nor­man to the bet­ter place Jenks was talk­ing about. And I smiled. Peter Hornbostel is artis­tic direc­tor of the RAAC Com­mu­nity’s The­atre in Wash­ing­ton. Nor­man Getsinger’s obit­u­ary ap­pears at left.

Photo by E. Ray­mond Boc

In a scene from "A Christ­mas Carol" at RAAC Com­mu­nity The­atre in 2010, Nor­man Getsinger as Scrooge meets the char­ity seek­ing Gen­tle­woman, played by his wife, Jo-an Getsinger.

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