Fiona Mary Norris | Passages

June 26, 1941 –

January 21, 2023

Fiona Mary Getliffe was born in Durban, South Africa on June 26, 1941 to Harry Getliffe and Mary Taylor Getiliffe. Within three years, Fiona was joined by three sisters: Claire and twins Geraldine and Jacqueline, and they came to be known as “The Getliffe Girls.” At the end of her primary school years Fiona won a major scholarship to the prestigious independent school, Durban Girls’ College. In her final year she was appointed Deputy Head Girl and was the Valedictorian of the school.

Fiona earned a Master of Science degree in Botany at KwaZulu Natal University, S.A. 1965, and was awarded the British Council Scholarship. She then earned a Ph.D. in Botany at University of Liverpool in the UK in 1968. Fiona returned to South Africa to teach Botany at the University of Durban-Westville and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and it was there that she met Prof. Richard Norris when he arrived in 1977 on sabbatical leave from the University of Washington. They married, and Fiona moved with Richard to his home at the old Hannah homestead on the westside of San Juan Island. She quickly became active in the community and a member of St. David’s Episcopal Church. Richard’s grown children from a previous marriage immediately bonded with Fiona, embracing her culinary skills and sense of fun.

In 1980 Richard and Fiona briefly lived in Japan and then moved back to South Africa, where they resided for the next decade. Fiona returned to lecture in the Botany Department at the University of the Witwatersrand, then moved to the Botany Dept. at KwaZulu Natal University in Pietermaritzburg, and finally became the Director of Education and Information at the National Botanical Institute, Kirstenbosch National Gardens, in Cape Town. While there, she represented South Africa at the Chelsea Flower Show in the U.K. During this time, a former student of Fiona’s discovered a new species of a native South African plant and named it in her honor, Diciptera fionae.

In 1991 Richard and Fiona moved to Honolulu, HI where Fiona served as Collections Manager and Acting Chairman of the Botany Department at the Bishop Museum. In 1993 they moved to Fort Worth, TX where Fiona served as Assistant Director at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. While there, she authored two children’s books on botany, illustrating one of the books with her own watercolors. Fiona then went on to become Head of Education at the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.

In 2001 the couple moved back to Friday Harbor for “retirement.” Both Richard and Fiona became PNW Master Gardeners and taught classes for the program for many years. During this time, Fiona became director of the San Juan Nature Institute and founded the FH Elementary School garden, where she helped many local children learn about plants and vegetable gardening. She also assisted teachers in basic science education.

Fiona was very active in St. David’s Episcopal Church where she sang in the choir, served on the vestry committee and prepared flower arrangements for the Sunday service for many years. Fiona was an active member of the Garden Club and Soroptimists. She and Richard helped organize the SJI Garden Tour each year. Every August, Fiona enjoyed her role as a superintendent of the flower entries at the San Juan County Fair, and particularly appreciated being invited to judge the flower arrangements at the fair in 2022. Her community and friends meant a lot to her.

In addition to her many professional achievements, Fiona was a skilled seamstress, knitter, chef and bell ringer. While living in Hawaii, she became Ringing Master at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Honolulu. She read voraciously and was an active patron of the San Juan Library. Fiona gardened alongside her husband for many years, creating beautiful gardens at each of their homes in whatever climate zone they found themselves. She delighted in placing “Easter egg” plants in her gardens, plants that were botanically unique, educational and of personal value, and passing that knowledge on to others. Fiona appreciated good fun and was always at the ready with a cup of tea and rewarding burst of laughter.

Fiona is survived by her stepdaughter, Laura Norris (Ken Crawbuck) and step-grandchildren Claire and Graham Crawbuck; her sisters Claire Coryton (Gervais) of Montignac-Toupinerie, France, Geraldine Kerton-Johnson (Peter) of Chard, England, and Jacqueline Cole (Tony) of Cape Town, South Africa; stepson Richard Norris II, step-grandson Michael Norris; stepdaughter-in law Teri Wingate; and many nieces and nephews who loved their Aunt Fiona. Fiona is preceded in death by her parents, older sister Rosemary who died in infancy, husband Richard Norris and stepson Jack Norris.

The family would like to thank The Village at the Harbor, part of San Juan Public Hospital District, for the excellent care given to Fiona in her final years. They would also like to thank Hospice Northwest for the loving care given to Fiona in her final days. We are truly fortunate to have benefited from the existence of both services on San Juan Island.

A memorial service will be held at St. David’s Episcopal Church on March 19 at two o’clock in the afternoon with a tea reception following. If you wish to remember Fiona, please consider donating to St. David’s Episcopal Church, Hospice Northwest, or a local environmental group of your choice.