Red Bank to honor Norma Todd at Family Day


Staff Writer

LAYLI WHYTELAYLI WHYTE RED BANK — One of the borough’s favorite daughters will be honored Saturday as part of Family Day.

The Red Bank Parks and Recreation Department, the Westside Community Group, and the Count the Children Movement have joined together to host the Norma and Jimmy Todd Family Day celebration with Norma Todd, 83, as the guest of honor.

The celebration will take place at Count Basie Park from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. The rain date is Sunday.

Todd, a native of Red Bank, spent 35 years traveling the world with her husband and their two daughters.

Richard James Todd, who was known as Jimmy, worked for the U.S. State Department and was only the 11th African American man to be accepted into the U.S. foreign service.

The two met while both were working in Washington, D.C., Jimmy for the State Department and Norma for the Department of Finance.

“I liked it quite well,” she said, “but I always thought there was something more exciting than doing finance.”

She said she was looking for something more exciting, and a life traveling the world fit her just fine.

“It isn’t right for everyone,” she said, “but it was right for me.”

Between 1945 and 1980, she and her husband lived in 13 different countries, including Egypt and Israel, where she gave birth to two daughters. Instead of taking planes to every one of their new homes, she said the family would travel by ship because it gave them more time to learn the language of the country where they were going to be living for the next few years.

“You get to know people if you can speak to them properly,” she noted.

She was able to meet so many different people in many different countries and cultures.

“People were tremendous in every country,” she said.

She worked as co-director of the Pakistan American Cultural Center in Karachi, while she was in that country between 1975 and 1978, providing counseling for students.

While the family was living in eastern Africa, there was a severe outbreak of cholera in the area, she recounted. Most of the State Department families with children left the country. Only the Todd family stayed, despite the danger.

She was asked to help locals in the village deal with the bodies of cholera victims, which she did. But her focus was on helping others survive the crisis.

“They asked me to help take care of the dead bodies,” she said, “but the people who were still alive needed help, too.”

Todd sent word to her mother and mother-in-law back in the United States and asked them to send as much cheesecloth as they could gather. She instructed them to call the State Department and have it picked up the same day they finished collecting it.

“That night we had the cheesecloth,” she said.

She showed the locals how to use the cheesecloth as mosquito netting, to protect them from the disease-carrying pests while they slept.

Then she turned her attention to the substandard living conditions.

“Every village had about 10 homes,” she said. “The floors of the homes were dirt, and all this water would get into them and turn to mud. You can’t sleep like that.”

She decided she had to learn to make cement for the floors and got the State Department to send a book that would show how to correct the problem.

She and the villagers put cement floors in every home.

“I had a good time,” she said. “I kept busy. I guess that’s why I keep busy now.”

When the family finally returned home in 1980, her mother told her that every day for a few weeks, a girl had been coming to the house asking when the ship bringing Norma and her family home would be coming in.

The day that the family returned home, Todd saw the girl who had been asking about her. To her surprise, it was a girl who had been in her Girl Scout troop in Indonesia. She had moved to Red Bank.

“She said that the town was opening up a soup kitchen,” Todd said. “She said she told them I might be interested in helping out.”

Although the organizational meeting was that very night, and Todd was exhausted from her long trip back to the states, she attended, and has been the director of Lunch Break in Red Bank for the past 25 years.

Lunch Break, which is run almost entirely by volunteers, provides lunch daily for anyone who is in need. Meals are also delivered to people, such as senior citizens, who are housebound.

In the food pantry’s basement shopping carts filled with food are also available for people with limited income. Families must fill out a form to apply for this help, and those that qualify receive a full cart of groceries every other month. The organization also provides clothes for those in need.

People from all over the world attended her husband’s funeral when he passed away recently.

Although she misses her husband terribly, and her two daughters live in Missouri, she has found a family in the community which she has always called home.

“I was born here,” she said. “The people are good here. You just have to understand people wherever you go; otherwise, you’ll never be happy.”

Norma Todd stands in front of the gate at Lunch Break, an organization she has been director of for over 20 years.