July 08, 2020

A pocketbook full of memories Friends, family recall Lubec couple who died on Flight 11

Jackie and Robert Norton drove their green Dodge Caravan into a parking lot at Bangor International Airport early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Lubec couple was headed to California for the wedding of one of Jackie’s three sons.

Flying into Boston, they connected with American Airlines Flight 11, a nonstop to the West Coast.

At 8:48 a.m., their jet slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. All 76 passengers, 11 crew members and five terrorists who commandeered the plane died.

Months later, amid mountains of rubble remaining from the cataclysmic destruction that day, somebody found a pocketbook with a broken strap. It was Jackie Norton’s.

It contained reminders of her life that day: a wallet, airline boarding passes, a checkbook, keys to the Dodge Caravan and a worn newspaper clipping containing a poem titled “Go Travel.”

One year later, the pocketbook is in California with Jackie Norton’s family, and the keys to the Caravan are back in Lubec.

Gregory Giggie, a family friend and the couple’s handyman, uses them to drive the van, which he bought after their estate was settled.

In Lubec, family members and friends still talk about a loss that remains as raw as it was on the day they watched TV screens show, over and over again, the plane smashing into the tower.

And they describe a couple whose many quiet acts of kindness are as much a part of Lubec as they were the day the couple drove off from their home on Johnson Street.

Divorced, Jackie Norton, 61, had moved from Santa Barbara, Calif., to Lubec in the early 1990s, buying a home after visiting the town on a vacation. Robert Norton, 85, had grown up in Lubec, worked elsewhere, then retired to his hometown.

She lived two doors from Robert Norton, whose wife, Margaret, had died in the 1980s after a long illness. Jackie and Robert became acquainted through the Lubec Congregational Christian Church and were married in 1993.

Friends and family say they believe Robert fell into a deep depression after Margaret’s death. Jackie helped change that.

“The day I picked her up and took her to church [to be married], I told her, ‘I think you’re the best thing that happened to him,'” says Lawton Carter, Robert’s cousin. “For a good many years, he sat around and moped and slept, and she got him off his ass and got him going,” he said.

Robert was a deacon in the Lubec church, and Jackie was church clerk.

Lawton Carter was a freshman at Lubec High School when Robert was a senior. As boys, they lived across the street from each other, worked, hunted, fished and combed the beach together.

“If I went clamming, I did an extra roller [clam basket] for him and his mother,” Carter says. “You shared everything.”

Sidney and Alice Maker also went to Lubec High School with Robert. They say he was a good football player and popular student.

After graduation, Robert married high school teacher Margaret Neagle, who was a few years older.

Robert worked locally for a time, then left Lubec to attend Franklin Technical College in Boston. He graduated with a degree in engineering. He spent his career in Massachusetts, designing treatment and incinerator plants. The couple’s only child died during childbirth.

They returned to Lubec in the 1970s.

Jackie McGuire was born in Pasadena, Calif. After graduation from high school, she married and raised three boys, Jason, Jim and John, one of whom, according to her son, Jason Seymour, is mentally challenged.

Seymour described his mom as a hard-working, stay-at-home parent. “She worked her tail off. She was a mom,” he said.

After Jackie and Robert Norton were married, they spent most of their time in Lubec and were quick to share with their neighbors and friends.

When the Makers faced some health problems, the Nortons helped, the Makers recall.

“He came in many times, brought me many books and things. He called a number of times, very thoughtful,” Sidney Maker says.

When Sidney landed in the hospital, it was Jackie Norton who took Sidney’s wife to visit her husband. “They just were those kinds of people,” Alice Maker says.

The Sunday before they were scheduled to leave for California, the Nortons had picked a bouquet of sweet peas and taken them to the Makers. They delivered similar bouquets to other friends.

Alice Maker says they talked about the impending wedding of Jackie’s son. When they were getting ready to leave the Maker house, “I said, ‘Have a good trip,'” Alice recalls.

The same day, Robert Norton visited his cousin. “He dropped off some reading material, because we swapped stuff back and forth like that,” says Carter, who wished his cousin well and told him to have a good trip. “That’s the last I ever saw of him.”

On Monday, Sept. 10, the couple drove to Bangor, where they spent the night because their flight from BIA departed so early.

At 7:59 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, American Flight 11 took off from Logan International Airport in Boston. According to its flight plan, it was scheduled to turn south over Worcester, Mass., on its way to California.

At 8:15 a.m., the plane veered from its flight path and headed toward New York. The plane made a sharp left turn over Amsterdam, N.Y, just north of Albany.

Forty-nine minutes after it took off, it hit the tower.

The Makers learned of the attack from a neighbor. “All that day I just denied they were on that plane,” Alice Maker says. She thought they weren’t scheduled to leave until Thursday.

Giggie, their handyman, says he was home riding his exercise bike when he saw the replay of Flight 11 as it hit the north tower. “I knew,” he says, putting his hand over his heart.

Carter says he received a phone call from one of Jackie Norton’s family members, who confirmed that American had notified the family that the Nortons were killed.

He says he was inundated with calls from friends, family and reporters, even U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.

“She talked 25 minutes,” Carter says. “Very down-to-earth. She wanted to know what I thought, and I told her it was one hell of a mess. I said Americans have got to start looking out for themselves. They’re like Robert, they’re too easygoing.”

Carter pauses.

“He didn’t deserve to die that way.”

A year later, small things help people in Lubec remember the Nortons.

The 2001-02 town report was dedicated to the couple. Inside it reads, “Total citizens, who loved their gardens, church, family, neighbors, town and their country.”

Leona MacBride, longtime friend and church treasurer, says a small memorial park was created next to the church. Although it was not created just for the Nortons, they served as the impetus for getting it done. “It is in memory of all our lost members,” she says. “It has been wonderful.”

The Lubec church where the Nortons spent so much time will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11. No ceremony – just open “for remembering, praying and meditation.”

And Giggie is keeping a tight grip on the keys he now holds.

“Those were the keys she had with her,” he says. “They were touched by an angel.”

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