No success is too big or too small for Grantsville resident Shirley Norton. She’s lived a life as one of the most accomplished nurses in Tooele County. Add in her family, religion and Brigham Young University sports, and Norton will tell you her life has been “wonderful.”
Norton, 95, and her late husband, George, graduated from Provo High School in 1936, and although George wanted to get married right out of high school, Shirley wanted to become a nurse.
She had this dream from a young age and through helping her mother, who was also a nurse, she learned she had to pursue that dream. She enrolled at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco because colleges and universities didn’t have nursing programs at the time.
The other wrinkle of this adventure included a no-marriage rule that prospective nurses had to follow. Shirley told George to date other women while she attended the three-year nursing school. She left for California in 1937.
Shirley had the opportunity to take part in the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge when she went to San Francisco. When the bridge opened on May 27, 1937, Shirley was among those who walked across the bridge before it officially opened to automobiles.
The hospital where she trained to be a nurse, Mount Zion Hospital, had strict rules that Shirley and her classmates were expected to follow, including curfew. If the students were not back to the hospital by curfew, then they were locked out and couldn’t get in. Forty students started with Shirley in 1937, but just seven, including her, graduated in 1940.
When her time at the school ended, she returned to Utah, and George had waited for her.
“Lo and behold he waited for me,” Shirley said.
George was drafted, and he chose to become a marine. He fought in the Pacific theater of the war, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.
Shirley worked as a nurse in Provo to support herself and their first daughter Nadine while George was at war. She said a lot of prayers were offered and faith was exercised at that time. Not only did George serve during World War II, but four of his brothers also served.
Shirley and her family were, and still are, devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said the faith she and her family had helped them stay strong and helped them believe that the five brothers would return home safely.
All five of them did just that. They returned home from the war and all lived into their 80s before passing away. The entire family made sure to have family reunions and family dinners often to enjoy having everyone together and safe.
When George returned from the war, he and Shirley had three more children within a three-year span — sons Phil, Charlie and Jeff. The family remained living in Salt Lake City until the early 1950s when Shirley started working at the hospital in Tooele, and the family moved.
She worked at the Tooele Hospital for five years before receiving a job from the Tooele Army Depot in the late ‘50s where she worked as a civil servant nurse. This is where she spent the majority of her professional career.
During her time at the Tooele Army Depot, she was briefly relocated to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md. With the Occupational Safety and Health Administration established in 1971, Shirley went to Aberdeen for training as an occupational nurse, which focuses more on tests, physicals and preventative medicine. She was the first occupational nurse to work at the Tooele Army Depot. Eventually, she retired in 1979 after 20 years working at the depot.
Even with her successful career, Shirley always put her family first. She loved watching her children compete in sports. They all competed for Leigh Pratt on the Tooele High School swim team.
Shirley said it’s important to have other interests and to make sure those interests are pursued. One thing she and her husband enjoyed was traveling.
One summer after Shirley’s retirement, she and George packed up a motor home and toured the United States. They eventually made it to Hawaii in 1990 for their 50th anniversary to complete their goal of visiting all 50 states.
They also visited other countries, including Japan, China, Israel and many in Europe.
The trip to Israel into Jerusalem was especially dear to Shirley’s heart, she said, because of her LDS faith.
Sports are a big part of Shirley’s life, especially those played at BYU. Shirley has a basketball on display in her room at Diamond Jane’s Assisted Living with autographs from every member of the 2010-2011 BYU basketball team — the team that featured Jimmer Fredette.
She can hold her own in any sports conversation, including the most recent Super Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens. She hoped the 49ers would have won, but she was happy that former BYU player Dennis Pitta, who plays for the Ravens, was able to win.
Shirley has no regrets in her twilight years, and is grateful for the life she’s lived.
“I just wish that everyone could have as wonderful a life as I’ve had,” she said. “We had a wonderful life, and the best is yet to come.”