By Danny Schrafel
Margaret Norton, a pillar of the Cold Spring Harbor community who taught in the Cold Spring Harbor School District for 45 years, died on June 24 of natural causes, her son, Bill Norton, said. She was 105.
Longtime friend Tom Hogan said Norton embodied “the spirit of Cold Spring Harbor,” a person who regaled all who would hear with stories of horses and buggies rolling down Main Street.
“She taught most of the people in town,” he said. “How many do you people do you know in any community that were born and raised there, and could share stories of her times downtown, playing on porches and swimming in the harbor?”
She did just that in “Maggie’s Memories – A View of Cold Spring Harbor,” a book published in 2007, when she was 97 years old.
“I loved my childhood,” she said in a March 18, 2010 Long-Islander report on the occasion of her 100th birthday. “I was at the beach every day, rain or shine. That’s where my heart is. I live in a spot that I think is darn near perfect.”
Aside from studying at Cortland College, then a three-year program, the only time she moved from Cold Spring Harbor was when she taught for three years in a one-room schoolhouse in upstate Goshen.
She returned to her Cold Spring Harbor home to teach English language arts to sixth, seventh and eighth-graders at the former East Side School – now Goose Hill Primary School. She taught at the Main Street School until 1953 and completed her career at the East Side School. She retired in 1978.
Her students kept in touch well after they parted ways in the classroom, calling her and writing her, still asking for the occasional bit of advice.
“I give them advice still,” she said in 2010. “They tell me their problems, their successes – mostly their successes,” she said.
During World War II, Norton was a nurse’s aide, continued teaching and volunteered as an ambulance driver.
“In fact, they had to put blocks on the pedals because she was so short,” Bill Norton said. “She was a very determined person.”
But that petite frame belonged to a lion-hearted woman who spoke her mind with no pretense.
“She didn’t pull any punches,” he said.
After retiring from the classroom, she remained active in the United Methodist Church of Huntington-Cold Spring Harbor and the Cold Spring Harbor Public Library. She also sold consignments at the Huntington Historical Society’s museum shop, which she helped launch in the 1970s, according to Toby Kissam, the second vice-president of the Huntington Historical Society.
“She was just a grand source of information about the information of Cold Spring Harbor,” Kissam said, noting that Norton was the only person to receive the Historical Society’s volunteer of the year award more than once. In true Norton fashion, she retired there five years ago – when she was 100 years old.
Asked about her secret to longevity, her son said that Maggie led a healthy lifestyle. She never smoked, ate well, kept active, read “as much as my eyes could take,” she said, and had a cocktail before dinner each night – a small glass of Dewars scotch. That is, until she was 95, when she switched to Pindar winter white wine.
“She was amazing,” said Judy Hogan, a neighbor for more than 40 years. “She was a lovely lady. Tough, but lovely.”
Norton was predeceased by her husband of 63 years, William. In addition to her son, she is survived by a niece and cousins.
At her request, no funeral service was held, Bill Norton said; he said a memorial service is tentatively scheduled for July 26 at United Methodist Church of Huntington-Cold Spring Harbor. Memorial contributions in Maggie’s memory can be made to the church’s scholarship fund.