In 1912, telephone service first came to Garner, a town then just seven years old. A year later, James O. Norris was born in Garner.
On June 15, Norris will celebrate his 100th birthday at his Southeast Raleigh home. He can still be found hanging out on his porch, as long as it’s warm.
“Working on it, but haven’t gotten it yet,” he cautions of the milestone.
Norris was the youngest of five children, and made a name for himself as an all-star playing baseball with the Garner Negro Team, his granddaughter Linnetta Threatt said. In 1933 he married Clara Jane Taylor, and they raised three children together, all still living. Threatt is one of seven grandchildren, and Norris also has seven great-grandchildren.
“He has always been right there for our family. Very encouraging, such a big part of our lives,” Threatt said.
Before he retired, Norris worked for Coca-Cola, Norfolk Southern Railroad and Storr Sale. He also was a member of The Shriners International in Wake County – a Freemason group that promotes brotherhood, fun and truth, Threatt said.
Those in his family lovingly call him “Chump” because that’s what he used to call them. He’s still healthy and alert for his age, his family says. He lives with his daughter and another friend on Newcombe Street between I-440 and Garner. Threatt’s mother also lives nearby.
His friend George Muldrow Jr., a relative youngster at 75, said he’s known Norris since he was a small boy. Muldrow, sitting on Norris’ porch chatting up his longtime friend on a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon, said Norris was a role model as a man, especially regarding family.
“It’s not really what a person says, it’s what they do. That’s what I would speak on, what I’ve seen him do and how he is,” Muldrow said. “That’s what makes a young boy. A boy copies what he sees an individual do, whether it’s done wrong or done right. If he sees it done long enough, he’ll pick it up.”
Norris tries to keep as active as he can, and still gets around on his own. Muldrow said “He’s been working all his life, and he ain’t tired yet,” but jabbed “like I said, he’ll take his time,” and they both laughed.
“I know I can’t get out here and run no 50-yard dash; my wind’s too short. But other than that I do good,” Norris said. “If you don’t use it, you lose it. If you sit down and don’t try to walk, that’s why you can’t walk.”
Norris said the most important thing a person can do is live by the golden rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” As for his thoughts on his longevity, he said there’s just no way to know when your time will come.
“In a flower garden, some of the flowers last a long time, some die quicker than others,” he said. “You don’t know how long your lifetime is. You enjoy every minute of it you can.”
Threatt said Norris gave her away at her wedding in 1988, because her father had died in Vietnam.
“He’s mighty special to us. Just glad to have opportunity to celebrate his life,” Threatt said. “Just praying the weather is going to be good. It’ll be a backyard celebration. But come rain or shine we’re going to celebrate.”