Pastors' Memoirs

Norman George Preston, Jr., 1920-2001

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Norman, affectionately known as "Norm" by his close friends, was born in 1920 in Shreveport, Louisiana, to Norman George and Mabel Steinwinder Preston. His father was an accountant and his mother had been a teacher before her marriage. From the beginning, school was a pivotal point in Norm’s life. He advanced the first three grades in two years while attending a model (demonstration) school on the campus of Centenary College.

Though many of his friends and colleagues in ministry were not aware of it, Norm was a music enthusiast, having a wide range of experience with musical instruments. His introduction to piano, forced upon him by his parents, ended after three years when he had had enough and found someone to buy the piano. However, it launched a journey into musical instruments, from playing in a drum and bugle corps, to trumpet in his first year with the high school band, to the clarinet in his senior year. In college, at Louisiana State University, he switched from clarinet to bassoon so he could tour throughout Europe with the school’s Symphony Orchestra. But, he commented later, that was the end of his musical instruments!

At Louisiana State University, he received an accounting degree, then entered Law School for nearly two years, until he recognized his call to ministry and enrolled in the Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He was active in the Wesley Foundation on the Duke campus, including participation in national conferences. He was also active in the Wesley Players, a religious drama group, and served a term as National Vice President.

While at Duke, he met and married the former Elizabeth Kraybill, a registered nurse at Duke Hospital. To make "ends meet" Norm pastored a small church near Durham. After graduating from Duke they went to Connecticut for a year’s graduate study at Yale Divinity School. He then became director of the Wesley Foundation at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. While there, Noel, their first son, was born. Later, the family moved to the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, where he became Minister to Students. It was there that Elinor, their first daughter, was born. In 1950, Norm received his first appointment in the Virginia Conference, moving to the McKenney Charge in the Petersburg District. While in this pastorate Kenneth and Beth were born.

Following appointments in the Eastern Shore and in Roanoke, tragedy struck the family when Elizabeth died of a brain cancer in March of 1962. Norm and the children moved to the Park Avenue Church in Richmond. In 1964, he married Evelyn Buchanan. Shortly thereafter Evelyn adopted the children. In Norm’s words, "She became a wonderful mother for them and wife for me."

After five more appointments — Morrison in Newport News, Immanuel in Annandale, Berryman in Richmond, Miles Memorial in Norfolk, and Aldersgate in Henrico, Norm took his retirement in 1983.

As I look back over 35 years of friendship with Norm, I fondly remember a colleague quiet in demeanor, servant to others, and committed to his Lord and the Church. Whether working with him as a conference statistician for 15 years, talking about his "ham operations," under the handle of "Norm" or "Circuit Rider," or just sharing about our churches and our families, he was always attentive, patient, knowledgeable and sensitive.

Henry van Dyke wrote a poem, The Way, that captures for me an expression I believe fitting for my friend:

Who seeks for heaven alone to save his soul,

May keep the path, but will not reach the goal;

While he who walks in love may wander far,

But God will bring him where the Blessed are.

Norman Preston always thought of others, always sought to appreciate others, as he lived out the love of his Lord. It is that love, I believe, that has brought him, now, where the Blessed are.

— E. Thomas Murphy Jr.



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