Norma Dever, née Spangler, was born in 1933 in the small town of Jonesville, Virginia. After attending a one-room grade school and local high school, in 1950 she went to Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee—then an evangelical Bible College. There we met at 17, and at 19 we got married. She was a talented pianist and accompanied the College sextet.
For the next 36 years we were companions, at seminary, in Indiana; at Harvard; at both HUC-JIR and the Albright Institute in Jerusalem; and for 11 years at The University of Arizona. Our only child, Sean William, was born after 16 years of marriage—a wunderkind who died at 32 but is remembered in an Albright Institute scholarship in his name.
Norma typed (and often helped to edit) everything I ever wrote for the 63 years, from seminary papers to my last book, Beyond the Texts (2017), hundreds of items. Her employment as a school teacher helped to support my education. For ten years at Gezer, Norma was a core staff member, overseeing the student volunteer program (then a novelty) and managing the logistics of a large dig camp. At the Albright, she served in many capacities, from “house-mother” to Director’s secretary, all without remuneration. In 2004, she published a wonderful article in Near Eastern Archaeology, which chronicled the many contributions that she and many other wives of archaeologists made to our field (“They Also Dug: Archaeologists’ Wives and Their Stories”).
After we came back to the U.S. in 1975, Norma finished an M.A. in History at The University of Arizona, and she taught secretarial skills at Pima Community College. For many years she continued to spearhead fundraising efforts for the Albright, including its annual “Friends and Family” fundraiser, and she served for a number of terms as an Albright Trustee. Norma was famous for her unwavering loyalty to the Albright and to ASOR. She worked with Larry Stager at Ashkelon for ten years, as a registrar, and during those summers and many others, she would stay at the Albright, a vital reminder of “institutional memory.” In 1999, she received ASOR’s Membership Service Award and in 2003, the Albright’s W. F. Albright Award.
Norma was that rarest of individuals: someone who was exactly who she appeared to be. There was an uncomplicated goodness about her, to which many instinctively responded. She was not domineering; but she had her own strength, never more admirable than in the way she bore Sean’s death in 2001 at 32. And her good character was shown by how graciously she received Pamela and me when we were in Tucson and then visited nearly every year thereafter. She could have resented my having another son, Zeb, but instead she always enjoyed seeing him.
Norma and I remained friends for these past 30 years, despite a divorce that she never quite understood. We talked by phone nearly every week. I shall miss her, as hundreds of others will. She was a fierce defender of me and my work; a loving mother; and a stalwart friend and supporter of the ASOR and Albright families.
Donations in Norma’s memory can be made to the Sean W. Dever Memorial Fund at the Albright Institute.
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