William Benjamin Norris, known to friends and family as “Benjie,” was a mentor of mine while growing up in St. Louis and attending the Spring & Blaine congregation in the south central part of the town. He was a good influence and wonderful help to a great many others, as well.
Here’s where he influenced my life!
I first met Benjie in the summer of 1961. He was a teacher in our annual Vacation Bible School. I had the privilege of sitting at his feet in the young people’s class of that time,. beginning at very near age 13. He was smart in the scriptures and gifted, but down to earth in his demeanor. Too, he gently, but firmly, commanded respect and cooperation from us in the class, being intolerant of bad and distracting behavior. Actually, he earned and gained respect from people of all ages. During this time, he dated Mary Jane Paxon, the middle daughter of Gene and Mildred Paxon. Gene was one of the elders at Spring & Blaine.
Benjie saw me baptized into Christ Wednesday evening, April 10, 1963, when 14 1/2 years old. My father lead the invitation song, “Are You COming To Jesus Tonight?”, when I came forward with 2 friends of mine, brothers, who also were baptized. About a month later, Benjie saw me lead my first song: “Marching To Zion.” Much that I learned about music came from Benjie Norris. (My father is also credited with a little of that learning). When I gave my first talk in late 1963, it was Benjie who sat with me in private one Wednesday evening in one of the classrooms in the basement of the church building to critique me, as I rehearsed my presentation. At that same service, Benjie extended the invitation, using some of the points from my talk. Dad and I were happy about that, needless to say!
When one of the other elders, Granvil Sewell, lost his wife at the beginning of 1964, I traveled with Benjie and some others to the funeral one Sunday afternoon inbetween services to St. James, Missouri, about 90 miles west of St. Louis. It was Benjie who treated me to lunch, as we all stopped to dine in a restaurant on the way. He and I also attended a number of other funerals together during his stay in St. Louis.
Many a time Benjie and I talked in private, not only about the Bible and singing, but also about things pertaining to everyday life and growing up. I knew he really cared for me!
Anything Benjie Norris accepted as an assignment, he did thoroughly, energetically, diligently, and humbly. Whatever the elders at Spring & Blaine asked him to perform, if he was at all able to accept the request, he fulfilled it. Not once did he fail the elders! He was dependable all the way. Too, Benjie and Mary Jane drove me home after church on Wednesday evening many a time.
Benjie attended Washington University dfuring his stay in St. Louis, where he obtained his degree. He and Mary Jane were married in 1962. Eventually, after Benjie graduated and departed St. Louis, this marriage brought forth 3 fine daughters: Rebecca, Julie, and Amy, all of whom are faithful members of the church. There’s also a number of fine grandchildren. Upon leaving St. Louis in early 1966, the Norris’ went to Alabama to live, where Benjie taught in Huntsville, near his hometown of Russellville. He was employed at TVA.
Benjie was a crackshot of a song leader. He knew music well, in addition to his amazing teaching skills. He taught many new songs to Spring & Blaine, along with a class he called, “The Rudiments of Music.” He also conducted other Bible classes, all of which I attended. He had a keen mind that wouldn’t quit, and was what one would well call a “bookworm.” He loved to read, and had quite a sizeable library. Benjie was productive, creative, and truly did his best to live the Christian life. When he became right with God, he remained right with God! He served as an elder at the Jordan Park congregation in Huntsville a number of years.
Benjie departed this life at age 68 on Thursday, January 14, 2010, after 15 months of battling complications from brain cancer. Two services were held for him, one in Huntsville and one in Russellville, of which I attended the latter. The theme was “Victory.” “Victory In Jesus” was sung by all who attended the services.
” Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?” (2 Samuel 3:38).