She was born to Ruth and Clinton Gaskill on April 23, 1948 and named Norma Jean. Norma died December 31, 2019. Between 4/23/1948 and 12/31/2019, Norma lived; and it was a rich and meaningful life.
Born in Gillette, Norma grew up in Northeastern Wyoming, living mainly in Newcastle and on the Gaskill family’s ranch where she helped raise livestock. The youngest of three children, Norma lived with her Mother (Ruth), Father (Clinton), her brother, Bobby, and her sister, Geneva. Her father’s death when she was nine left an indelible mark, a wound she would carry the rest of her life. But she also carried the rancher spirit of her daddy, a wild and ornery streak that you could catch in her twinkling eyes when mischief was in mind. Upon her graduation from Newcastle High School, Norma set off for college at the University of Wyoming in the big city of Laramie.
At UW, Norma excelled as a nursing student and often proudly noted her exceptional grades. Whether it was her grades or her beauty, it is hard to say, but while at UW she caught the attention of a certain city boy, one Paul Francis Kinnison. Accepting an “invitation” for dinner, Norma and Paul fell quickly in love and after a short engagement, they married on August 12, 1967. They would welcome their first child, a son (Quentin), in March the following year.
In the early seventies, four events shaped Norma’s life profoundly. First, upon graduating with her nursing degree, Norma would begin a long and distinguished career as a nurse. She worked in emergency clinics, ICU, rehab facilities with para and quadriplegics, public schools, home health, and Hospice, and has been both nurse and administrator. Over the course of the 40 plus years, she would practice her ministry, touching the lives of people physically and spiritually when they were at their most vulnerable.
Second, shortly after starting her career, she and Paul welcomed their second child, a daughter (Vandi), into their family in June of 1971. Her love for her children was undiminished by her career. Norma found ways to connect and love her family even when working the most difficult of shifts. She nurtured their lives with grace, love, and a touch of that Wyoming rancher orneriness. Third, within months of Vandi’s birth, her mother, Ruth, died in a car crash. Like her father’s death, this would mark her in ways that motivated her to love her family more deeply.
But perhaps the most significant change would occur during this time of disruption and turmoil when her need for Christ became most apparent. Following a Billy Graham movie, For Pete’s Sake, Norma committed her life to Jesus in a faith relationship. She and Paul were baptized and became members of Trinity Baptist Church in Laramie, Wyoming where she developed a growing and vibrant faith. For the decades that followed, Norma lived her faith with conviction and integrity in her care for family and her communities and as an expression of her love for Christ.
In later years, Norma endured the heartbreaking death of her daughter, Vandi. This was another moment that marked her deeply and at times almost unbearably. But with God’s love and grace, she put her grief to work by caring for others who likewise grieved. And this may be the great gift she was always giving to us, that she refused to waste her difficult experiences in self-pity or self-destruction, opting instead to use her pain to care for others.
In the days leading to her death, Norma received a gift she had wrapped. In her decade of service as a Nurse Supervisor at Hospice of the Valley, she trained and taught her team to “see the patient, not just the numbers.” When she entered Hospice care, it was that team that insisted they would care for her because, “she’s our Mama, and we take care for our Mama.” They saw her, not just the numbers, just like she taught them and just like she lived her life. Norma saw people. In the end, Norma Jean’s body succumbed to pancreatic cancer but her life continues on.
In her 71 years, Norma Jean (Gaskill) Kinnison, filled many roles and had many titles. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother. She was a friend, confidant, counselor, caregiver, pastor’s wife, and teacher. She was a nurse, a supervisor, an administrator, and boss. She was an author, a theological thinker, a mischievous mate, and a survivor. But the name she carries today that makes the most difference is that of “beloved child.” In giving her life to Jesus, Norma became a child of God and when her body gave out, it was Jesus who welcomed her home. Preceded in death by her mother and father, her sister, Geneva, and her daughter, Vandi, Norma is now living in the presence of those who went before her and in the embrace of the God who saved her.
Those of us who survive Norma–Paul, her husband of 52 years, son Quentin (Cindy), son-in-law Eric Olson, grandchildren Zachary (Makenzie) Olson, Jacob (Alyssa) Olson, Noah Olson, Carissa Kinnison, great-granddaughter Ali Olson, brother Robert (Barbara) Gaskill, nieces and nephews, and her many friends, co-workers, and colleagues–miss Norma terribly. But we rest in knowing that she is home.
In lieu of flowers, we ask that donations be made to either Circle the City (www.circlethecity.org) or to Hospice of the Valley (www.hov.org) to honor Norma’s spirit of care for those most in need.
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