L’Arche Genesaret gives thanks for the life and enormous contribution of Norma Rigby (9/2/1925-27/2/2015). Norma played a pivotal role in the formation of L’Arche in Australia. The following tribute, written by Eileen Glass AM, long-term Genesaret member and Vice International Leader of L’Arche, is published here with kind permission of Norma’s family & Eileen Glass. This tribute was read out at Norma’s funeral on Saturday 7 March at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Manuka, Canberra.
Tribute to Norma Rigby
Norma was one of the first people in Australia to learn about L’Arche and its value for people with disabilities and their families. In 1972 she attended an International conference in Toronto, Canada and visited the first community of L’Arche in North America, at Richmond Hill, north of Toronto. She told me that from that time she prayed for the development of L’Arche in Australia.
I first met Norma early in 1977 when I was preparing the first visit of Jean Vanier to Australia. At the time she was the Executive Officer of AAMR, the first national association concerned with the needs of people with an intellectual disability. Her assistance to me, and the others involved in setting up the Board of L’Arche Australia was invaluable and she eventually became the second National Chairperson.
As well as having the knowledge and expertise needed to help create a national organization, Norma is particularly remembered for her concern for individual people. Her capacity to hold the larger picture while ensuring support locally was a rare gift.
I remember the young assistants in one of our homes here in Canberra in the early 1980’s when Norma left the house one evening after a visit. What had impressed them most was that a member of the National Board of L’Arche had been comfortable to sit on a cushion on the floor with them, learning about them and their families and and their experience in the community of L’Arche Genesaret.
There are many people who live with an intellectual disability in Canberra who were life-long friends of Norma. Often she knew them from when they were toddlers, into their adult years and was a quiet and effective advocate for them, including some who eventually came to live in L’Arche. She was always to be found at the cutting edge where the thinking and practice in support of people who live with disabilities was happening. At the same time she was not afraid to question and challenge trends and practices which failed to fully respect the rights and needs of both people who live with a disability and their families.
At a personal level I am forever grateful for the trust and support Norma gave me as a young woman and I hope I have learned from her to support and encourage young people in the realization of their dreams. I had returned to Australia after two years experience of L’Arche in France and Canada. I had a dream and little else. It was thanks to Norma and other people whom she knew and encouraged that the dream found expression. At every step in my own journey in L’Arche in Australia, Norma was always an encourager – as I took responsibility at national level, and then when I became the Community Leader of L’Arche Genesaret. She was one of the people who told me I must say yes to the call to be the Coordinator for L’Arche in Asia and the western Pacific – a role that lasted almost nine years. Three years ago when it seemed I would be called to a position of International Leadership in L’Arche, Norma was one of the first people I asked to be in the circle of people who pray for me. She remained faithful to her mission to the end – my last visit with her was two days before I left for France on February 2nd.
I am sorry not to be present as you celebrate the life of Norma and remember the remarkable woman she was. We are all graced to have known her and to have shared something of our life journey with her. L’Arche in Australia is richer for the contribution that she made to its foundation. May she be at peace in the heart of the God she trusted, with her beloved Harry.
Eileen Glass AM
Vice International Leader of L’Arche