Norah Margaret Bretall
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The one and only Norah Margaret (Turnbull) Bretall passed away on the evening of Thursday, December 10, 2020, after suffering a catastrophic stroke that morning. Norah was a fierce and formidable force of nature and was passionate about books, her family, hockey, volunteering, giving gifts, travel, cooking, tennis, making friends with anyone and learning more about any and all things.
Norah was born in Rochester, Minnesota, on April 26, 1935, to Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Turnbull, who were in Minnesota while he specialized in radiology at the Mayo Clinic. After time in Durham, North Carolina, the family returned to Canada (Victoria, BC) where her brother Malcolm was born in 1938, and then settled in Vancouver, BC, where her brother Rod arrived in 1946. Norah was instrumental in helping raise Rod while finishing her primary and secondary schooling. She spent a year studying at Western University in London, Ontario, but having mastered playing bridge and watching hockey, she was “called back” home to finish her bachelor’s degree in history at the University of British Columbia where she was a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. After working for her father as an x-ray technician, she learned of better opportunities “south of the border,” and moved to Seattle in 1959. It was at the pool at her apartment building that she met another one in a million, Graeme. They married in 1960 and celebrated 60 years of marriage on June 25 of this year.
From their home base in Seattle, Graeme and Norah made their first forays to Sun Valley in the early 1960s. Graeme was already an incredible skier, and Norah threw herself, literally, into improving her skiing. At a learn-to-ski week on Dollar, while going through the “do a couple turns and we’ll put you in the right group” routine, Norah managed to ski straight into Sigi Engl, knocking him to the ground. In 1968 the couple moved to Menlo Park, California, with their three children: Karen, Scott and Kristine, and California was home until they moved full-time to Idaho in 2017.
Being involved was part of Norah’s DNA. She threw herself into all her kids’ activities: timing at endless swim meets, standing in the rain at soccer games, making food for the concession stand, driving carpools, learning the intricacies of water polo — and at every event, she cheered louder than anyone for her kids. While she took care of all the details for us, she kept up a busy life of her own: tennis, book clubs, volunteering, hosting international students and going back to work at the Stanford Business School, where she befriended many students and got the inside scoop on the burgeoning Silicon Valley tech world.
Her involvement with the International Center at Stanford led to some of our favorite family memories and longest friendships. When she volunteered to teach ESL there, we became a host family every fall to two graduate students as they adjusted to life in the U.S. She thrived at helping students find their way in Palo Alto; we hosted more than 30 students from over 15 countries, and she managed to keep track of almost all of them through the years. These international students set a course for the family’s love of travel and commitment to always making room at the table for anyone needing a hot meal and sense of home.
Norah was a fantastic cook and generous hostess and loved any excuse to throw a party. In 1989, Graeme and Norah built a home in Ketchum, Idaho, that became the true center for their lives. She volunteered extensively over the last 20 years in Sun Valley, most recently as a volunteer two days a week at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum until the Covid pandemic prevented her from working — which she found extremely annoying. In 2018, she was awarded the Rector’s Cross at St. Thomas in honor of her work there and was deeply proud to have been recognized.
Another strength of Norah’s was that she looked out for others, spotted the humor in every situation, and loved to laugh. She had a wicked sense of humor and was more than a bit of a troublemaker. Some friends have shared thoughts that we want to pass on: “Norah always wanted to help people, even when they didn’t want it.” Another friend said, “she was always generous in giving her opinion.” And finally: “Norah could solve problems you didn’t know you had.” She will forever be cross to be missing any fun, good chuckle, piece of news, or gathering of friends and family. Those she left behind are: her husband Graeme, daughters Karen (Steve Bloomfield) and Kristine, and son Scott (Erin Gillett); grandchildren Heather and Michael Bloomfield, Lucy and Fritz Bretall, brothers Malcolm (Shirley) Turnbull and Rod (Christine) Turnbull and their children, and her sweet dog, Opie. She always insisted she didn’t want a funeral, but instead a party “where everyone laughs and has fun.” We could never ignore her wishes, so a celebration will be held in summer 2021. Her remains will be placed in the columbarium at St. Thomas in Ketchum with her family around her on Friday, December 18. If you need to grab a dictionary for that word, she’ll be happy you did. Norah kept one on her bedside table to make sure she never missed learning a new word in any of the many books she always had going.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to The Advocates or The Hunger Coalition. Remembrances may be left at www.woodriverchapel.com