March 3, 2003 – Friends and co-workers reacted with shock Monday to news of the death of Norma Shaw Kennedy (nee MacQueen.) She died Saturday afternoon in the intensive care unit of Roy L. Schneider Hospital, shortly after being admitted.
Originally from southern Philadelphia, she had lived on St. Thomas for 25 years and was an active member of the Virgin Islands community. She was well known for her zest for life.
She was a graduate of Temple University Nursing School in Philadelphia and worked as a registered nurse there. She was on the board of the visiting nurses' association, Red Cross and numerous civic organizations. She moved with her family to New Jersey where she was active in the Republican Party.
In 1978 she moved with her daughters to St. Thomas. She worked with the Red Cross blood bank on St. Thomas and as the territorial distributor for National Park Service books. For several years, she organized fashion shows for hotels and cruise ships featuring Jim Tillett silkscreened fabrics.
In 1987 she became the social director for Frenchman's Reef & Morningstar Beach Resorts (now Marriott Frenchman's Reef). Within a year she had developed "Weddings in Paradise" and she soon became known as the island's premier director of weddings. She managed more than 2,700 wedding events in her career. The business became such a successful part of the resort's operations that last year she was made the international spokeswoman for Marriott Weddings.
She was an active member of the Navy League, serving for many years as president of the League for St. Thomas-St. John, as state president for the Virgin Islands plus St. Martin, and then as regional vice president for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and St. Martin. She also worked with the USO and the St. Thomas Yacht Club and coordinated events with the Coast Guard on St. Thomas.
The mood was somber Monday at Frenchman's Reef, according to many workers there. General Manager John Peck said the hotel will hold a memorial service for Kennedy and will create a dedication to her "somewhere in the weddings area."
Although he is new to his position and knew Kennedy for only six months, Peck said he was impressed by her professionally and personally. She built the resort's wedding business up from a handful of couples a year to a business that brought in more than $2 million last year. She also became known throughout Marriott's 2,500 hotels worldwide as the wedding director.
Nick Pourzal, former general manager at the Reef, echoed those sentiments, calling Kennedy the "grandfather" of weddings in the Virgin Islands. "She was a dedicated, responsible manager (who) took ownership of whatever assignment, whatever responsibility she was given," he said.
She also was "an unusually loving and caring human being who in many instances put the well-being of others before her own," Pourzal said.
"She'd connect with people quickly," Peck said. She was "almost motherly." Her medical background showed as she inquired about co-workers' health, sometimes advised them to get care, or checked their blood pressure for them.
Melissa Bolger and her husband were so impressed by Kennedy when they were married at the Reef that they returned to live on St. Thomas. Kennedy helped them get jobs, introduced them to a real estate person, helped them get settled and "really just did everything for us."
"She had a terrific memory for names and people," said Dick Puig, a past president of the Navy League. She might meet someone as a junior officer, but she remembered him when he returned as a captain or an admiral — and he remembered her. Her fame in the Navy and organizations dealing with the Navy was not just regional but national.
Many of her friends and co-workers spoke of her contagious positive attitude.
"Norma was the most charismatic and fun-loving and glamorous person," said Brian Postle, head of sales for the Reef, who also called Kennedy his "best friend."
"If you were down," said a former co-worker, Vaden Vaterpool, "once you were around her, you felt up. She was one of the most energetic and loving persons I've known."
She was the daughter of Norman Shaw MacQueen (deceased) and Leah Dunlop MacQueen of Philadelphia.
She is survived by her mother; longtime companion Roland Georges; two daughters, Suzanne Kerner Abrams and Kimberle Kerner Tepper; grandchildren Matthew Abrams and Danielle Tepper; sons-in-law Andrew Abrams and Randy Tepper; brothers Norman and William MacQueen; sisters-in-law Patricia and Hannah MacQueen; and former husband William Kerner.
A viewing will be held at 10 a.m. with a service to follow at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 8 at Toppitzer Funeral Home/Arlington Cemetery Chapel at 2900 State Road, Drexel Hill, Pa. 19026.
Burial will be at the Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.
Local arrangements are by John Thomas Funeral Home.
A memorial service will be held locally March 16 at Marriott Frenchman's Reef Hotel. For more information, call Jessica Wagner at 715-6115, ext. 6303.

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