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Acadiana Lifestyle

A Marriage Bound By Giving

01/12/2018 07:00AM ● By Robert Frey

Patrick And Lisa Norris 

By Suzanne Ferrara

“When I first laid eyes on her, I was working at the Iberia Machine Shop, and I went to her house to help her dad.  When she walked out across the yard, I said to myself, ‘Wow! Who is that?’ She caught my attention, she was so beautiful.”

Patrick Norris is talking about then 17-year-old Lisa Olivia whom he would marry three years later. “The chemistry was good between us, and I could sense that feeling was mutual.”  He asked Lisa’s parents for permission to date her, which led to their first date.  “We went to the movies to see Saturday Night Live and then we went to eat pizza at Pizza Hut on St. Peter Street.”   

While the vibrant 19 year old was undoubtedly attracted to Lisa, their shared chemistry unexpectedly (and quickly) evolved into something much deeper.  Unforeseen circumstances were about to alter their lives forever.

While dating, Patrick went with Lisa and her parents to visit her four-year-old cousin, Colby, who was fighting leukemia at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Lisa recalls that fateful day when Patrick walked with her through the hallways of the massive hospital.  “We were young, but it was truly an eye-opening experience for us. It was unimaginable to see so many children with cancer; all we saw were sick children everywhere.  It was life-changing for us.”  The words Patrick spoke to Lisa at the hospital will be etched in his memory forever.  “If we were ever to have a future together,” he recalls saying, “regardless, I hope and pray we don’t have to experience this and need this kind of help, and instead be in a position to help support causes like this and these helpless children.”

From that moment on, their hearts beat together to a different drum, a beat that bore a new life filled with giving to others. “The seed was planted, and I never ever forgot that scene and experience, and I always said if I am ever in the position one day to help, I would,” says Patrick.

Their mission to give began the moment they left the hospital as they made donations to St. Jude in honor of Colby.   “It was a no-brainer that we were going to support St. Jude,” Lisa continues. “I knew first-hand what St. Jude did for the family. They did so much to help them, and the family would not have been able to afford all those treatments otherwise.”    

One year after their visit to St. Jude Hospital (to see Colby), the couple exchanged their wedding vows at Saint Peter’s Catholic Church in New Iberia.  “We got married on our dating anniversary, which was January 18,” says Lisa. That holy vow to each other was also a promise and desire to give to the needy.

Sadly, two years later young Colby lost his battle with leukemia.  “Our first-born son, Jonathan, was only three months old when Colby passed away,” adds Lisa.  From that moment on, the Norrisses’ donated whatever they could to St. Jude, only this time, the giving was in memory of Colby.  “We supported every St. Jude event possible, plus fundraisers for muscular dystrophy,” says Lisa. In the meantime, the couple had three young sons, and as the boys grew up, they, too, took part in fundraisers to help others.  

As the years progressed, their faith-filled relationship – bound by a path of giving - deepened their love for each other and, at the same time, their level of giving kicked up a notch.  “I joined the Junior Auxiliary. We helped the kids in the parish. That was so rewarding to me to work with children,” says Lisa.  She specifically recalls the puppet program.  “We used life-size puppets to teach kids about learning disabilities.  We put on a skit and one puppet was dyslexic, another had cerebral palsy and the other had down syndrome. The puppets without disabilities would interact with them by asking them questions, and the kids related to the puppets as real people.  It was a really neat program.” At the heart of the matter, though, were the children.  “The children just loved with their whole heart and whole being; they couldn’t wait to absorb everything you have to teach them and maybe I helped mold their future in some way.”

From their pockets to their volunteerism, the Norris’ collective life of giving was growing, and there was no turning back.  They have donated time and money to the church, the Sugarcane Festival board, the Bayou Mardi Gras Association, the Bayou Teche Wounded Warriors program, to schools, sports programs and to the Bayou Teche museum.  Patrick recalls when a child approached him for help.  “I was at the 4H live stock sale and there are kids selling their animals to help save money for their college tuition.  A little kid asked me, ‘Mister, do you want to look at my animal?’  I couldn’t help but buy that animal.”

Patrick says this lifestyle of helping people became an integral part of who they are as a couple. “That seed was planted and we are the ones who are blessed.”  Lisa agrees. “I feel like God has blessed us in so many ways that we should be giving back.”  

Their innate desire to help those in need within the parish they call home runs deep, with donations over the past decade exceeding hundreds of thousands of dollars. Thanks to the great success of Norris International Service (NIS), an oil field machinery, supply and drilling business owned and operated by Patrick and Lisa, their list of philanthropic beneficiaries is practically endless.

While it is hard to pick a favorite charity, when you ask them if there’s an organization closest to their hearts, they are both quick to answer.   “Miles Perret Cancer Services is just awesome! When we visited there, we saw everything your money goes to, and it was amazing.  Those with cancer get wigs, scarves, surgery packages, rehabilitation, a place to exercise, medical equipment including prosthetics, just everything,” says Patrick.  When they make a donation, they want to make sure that gift goes directly to the cause, and not to an organization’s overhead.  “I have seen so many organizations that are too cost-heavy at the top, and your donations go to support upper management.  We learned to look into their financial background and administration fees and, if they are too high, we move on,” explains Lisa.

Patrick and Lisa never question each other about to what organization the other wants to donate because they have a mutual understanding. “We always have open communication, and never hide anything.  If I want to donate to some cause, we work together,” says Patrick. They also never question the amount each other wants to give.   “If there is something I am truly passionate about, I will go to him and say, ‘I want you to consider this,’ and he will say ‘OK.”

So, it’s not surprising that the Norris’ were the recipients of one of the highest awards in the local philanthropic world:  the 2017 Iberia Parish Leaders in Philanthropy Award, courtesy of Community Foundation of Acadiana.  Pat and Lisa were humbled by their selection.  It was like, ‘Wow!  Why us?’ I never put us on that level where we would get recognized because we just did things to help because we can,” explains Patrick.  Lisa agrees, “It’s like I shouldn’t be getting a pat on the back for doing something that I enjoy doing.”

The Norrises say the intangible reward they receive from giving is a blessing in and of itself.  “I am a caregiver, and love to help people in need.  It is so rewarding; it is not something I do because I want thanks or praise, it’s because I love doing it,” says Lisa.  Patrick feels that same joy.  “There are no words for it.  It is exciting when you do things for people, especially children; it takes your breath away.  I give thanks every day that I am in the position to give.”

Pat and Lisa Norris believe their community involvement is critical to keep the parish thriving.  “I’ve noticed over past year that, with most of the community events I have participated in or gone to, the community is more receptive,” says Lisa.  Patrick concurs. “I hope it improves and that the places we support continue to improve.”

They’re hoping the positive changes continue to evolve for their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and for all Iberia Parish residents.  “We care about what happens to this place, and I want it to be a place where my family can stay and everyone can stay. We feel obligated to do something about it.”  To say they have a deep love for Iberia Parish and its future is an understatement.  “I was born and raised here, and this is where my roots are; it’s home. We are not leaving, and we want to do all that we can to support it and make it better,” vows a fervent Patrick.

In January, Patrick and Lisa will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary.  They say they could never imagine their fateful meeting as teenagers would lead them to the faith-filled marriage they have today; one bound by a path of giving.  Patrick looks back at the promise he made to both Lisa and God while they visited St. Jude Hospital as teenagers.  “I will never forget that scene and the children at St. Jude.  We are the lucky ones; giving is so important to us as a couple.  We give thanks every morning in prayer that we are able to help so many people.”

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