The Mouth Behind the Eye

By DAVE O'BRIAN  |  August 24, 2009

There is a lot about Norma Nathan, actually, that is just your basic 50ish Jewish housewife, baker of bread, provider of refreshments at 4-H Club functions, community activist (member of the Finance Commission in the blue-collar town of Middleton, population 4044), mother of two daughters (Sonya, a junior at Clark University, and Sarah, just entering high school and about to be bat mitzvah) and perennial house-party hostess. "She throws smashing, disorganized parties," said Marsha Brockelman, who worked with Norma at the Eagle-Tribune. "She's never quite sure who's coming, but there's always a good mix of people - politicians, TV people, folks from the town - and the conversation is usually fantastic."

Norma's neighbors describe her as a strong and positive voice in town politics, one whose speeches have been known to turn around votes at town meetings. She and her husband, in fact, were among the very few Middleton gentry courageous enough to lend vocal support to a failed attempt to bring Metco busing to the town some years back, and neighbor Shirley Raynard, who has been a North Shore Democratic Party activist for years, credits Norma for inspiring such involvement. "She called me up one day in the spring of 1962 and asked me to join a town-committee slate," Raynard remembered, "I said no, that politics in this state is not as clean as it should be. 'And it never will be as long as people like you take that attitude,' she said. She really took the wind out of my sails, as only Norma can do."

Norma also has led a fund-raising drive for the town library, and, according to Ed Raynard, Shirley's husband and the area's director of the state Office for Children, she was the mover behind a drive that forced Governor Michael Dukakis to fund a program at Danvers State Hospital for troubled adolescents. "She's one of the toughest people I know," he said, " but she's also one of the most feeling, warm people I know.

And, as it happens, Norma Nathan is also the utterly devoted wife of the genial and witty Norm Nathan, all-night jazz dj on WHDH radio. Says one family friend, "Norm is the dominating factor - outside of her own ego - in her life. She's always adjusting his toupee for him." Hairdos aside, there are even those who contend that Norm and Norma look startlingly alike. At least one family friend offers a plausible explanation for this: Norma, he says, is the spitting image of Norm's mother.

"The first time I met Norma I said, 'My God, this is Norm in a skirt,' said WHDH's morning man, Jess Cain. "I thought it was an act. Half tux and half evening gown. Norm and Norma." There, however, the resemblance ends. As Joe Mahoney, who gave Norma her journalistic start back when he was managing editor of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, puts it, "Norm is unflappable. Norma is like a bug on a griddle."

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