September 23, 2014

­­­David Lawrence Norwood — November 22, 1964 – May 13, 2012

 

PHOTOS COURTESY NAOMI NORWOOD

­­­David Lawrence Norwood  — November 22, 1964 – May 13, 2012

Family, extended family, and friends gathered in Topanga on June 16 to remember this remarkable man.

David’s family moved to Topanga when he was 13 years old and, soon thereafter, he went to work for the Topanga Messenger, which was transformative for him. He adored Ian, Mary, Colin, and Jeannie, and they appreciated his work and treated him like a peer, which contributed to his maturity and quiet confidence.

By the time he left Taft High School, David was an accomplished photographer, a good cook, a skilled guitarist, and a devoted hiker and runner.

He earned his degree in computer graphics from Cal Poly and immediately got a job in his field at Information International, Inc. When still in his 20’s, David was sent to Paris to install a computerized production system in a Parisian newspaper.

In 1995, he went to work for Amgen, where he had significant responsibility for the firm’s information technology.

The week he turned 30, after having difficulty on a Mt. Whitney descent, David was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which was then a two-to-five year death sentence. He had been married since 1989 to his college sweetheart, they had just remodeled their first house and were expecting their first child.

His son Justin was born in June 1995 and David continued to work for Amgen.

When he could no longer use a keyboard or mouse, he used voice recognition software. When he could no longer walk, Amgen spent thousands of dollars installing an automatic sliding glass door into David’s department so he could continue working in his wheelchair. Because he was such a skilled computer scientist, David was able to continue working successfully at Amgen even after he was completely paralyzed, and he left only after he needed a ventilator to breathe.

After deciding to be vented and to have a feeding tube installed, David felt rather invincible, and his second son, Kevin, was born in 2000. David went everywhere with his boys in his motorized wheelchair, from Zion National Park to various museums and parks, and even on camping trips.

In 2004, his marriage ended and he returned home to his parents’ property in Old Topanga, where his boys visited him weekly.

Because he was completely paralyzed and vented, David required 24-hour nursing care, so he was dependent on others to keep him fed, clean, and comfortable.

­­­David Lawrence Norwood  — November 22, 1964 – May 13, 2012

David with his sons, Justin (standing) and Kevin, who learned to use computers almost before they walked.

Even after he could no longer speak, he remained able to move a forehead muscle and, with that slight movement, he could trigger a switch that was taped to his forehead and wired to his computer. This binary switch enabled him to use software that permitted him to communicate and navigate around his computer.

Because he was so adept technically, he remained in control of his life. He ordered all his own supplies and equipment; he found, trained and scheduled his caregivers; he handled his own finances; and he continued to serve as his family’s resident tech guru.

He programmed his home so he could operate the lights, sprinklers, outdoor Web cam, and sophisticated sound and visual systems that enabled him to entertain himself and guests with his extensive music and film collections.

Despite the progress of the disease, David spent most of his time helping other people, designing and programming home automation systems and enhancing computer access for people facing physical challenges, providing hope and assistance to many people with ALS and other disabling conditions.

He had a huge online “family” of friends and colleagues whom he helped and mentored, including a man in the Netherlands with whom David designed a computer music program for disabled children, and a software engineer who specializes in providing computer access to the severely disabled.

He provided consulting services through Linked-In, and he blogged his technical solutions and responded to queries from all over the world — all with the switch on his forehead.

In addition to his formidable intelligence, David will be remembered for his fabulous sense of humor, which he revealed daily until his death. He loved Louis C.K., Sarah Silverman, Coen Brothers films, Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert.

He also liked cooking shows (Alton Brown and Mark Bittman), great guitarists (Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Morello, Knopfler), politics, language (Geoff Nunberg, NPR’s “A Way With Words”), “Inside the Actors Studio,” Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit,” and programs about genealogy.

David remained unfailingly gracious, sweet natured, and non-complaining. He made meaning in his life by helping others and by nurturing his strong connections with those he loved — especially his sons.

David is survived by his sons, Justin Perez-Norwood and Kevin Perez-Norwood, of Thousand Oaks; his mother, Virginia T. Norwood, his sister, Naomi Norwood, and her family, and his brother, Peter L. Norwood, and his family, all of Topanga; his step-siblings, David, Andrew, and Claudia Schaeffer, and their family; and many other extended family members and friends who became family.

DAVID NORWOOD, "WONDER BOY"

By Mary Colvig-Rhodes

David Norwood held a special place in the hearts of the Messenger staff who worked with him. Publisher Mary Colvig-Rhodes reminisces and pays tribute.

­­­David Lawrence Norwood  — November 22, 1964 – May 13, 2012

David on guitar and former Messenger Editor Colin Penno, jamming in the 1980s.

David was my neighbor, my babysitter and then he became my stalker. Every time I went to my mailbox, David was riding his bike on Old Topanga, stalking me. He wanted to work for the Messenger and he was relentless. He begged for a job.

At the time, my son, Chris, and his sister Mary were running in and out of the Messenger office, playing at the Center, and my youngest, Christina, was in her playpen in the office. Ian Brodie, West Coast correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph, was our publisher. Colin Penno was editor, writer and photographer; Jeannie Mitchell was our graphic designer and I was the typesetter. We were still pasting up the paper, developing film, making halftones and page negatives. We were a motley crew to say the least and our office was the hub of Topanga activity.

A typical day was consumed with visitors, contributors, subscribers, advertisers, creekers, you name it; they all came in on a regular basis.

If someone was looking for a long-lost friend, pet, anything, they called. If they wanted to know what the weather was like, they called; and, of course, even though we printed, “We do not take classifieds over the phone,” they called.

My children pretty much took over the office and Colin, although very patient indeed, was not into anyone under the age of 21. My daughter Mary pointed out to Colin, “You may be the editor but my Mom is the boss.”

This went over like a lead balloon, so introduce a 14 year old ... this was going to take some doing.

I explained that David just wanted to try us out. Colin looked over the top of his glasses and said, “Another one? You have to be kidding. We are trying to be adults here.”

I replied, “No, let’s just give him a shot. He can try paste-up for an issue and if it doesn’t work out, what have we got to lose?“

And the winner was….

My typesetting machine, a computer about the size of a washer/dryer, used photo chemicals. On a cold day the film came out too light and when it was hot, the film was too dark. I’m sure the manufacturer never took into consideration that the equipment would be located in a Quonset hut with concrete floors, no heating, no air conditioning, not to mention dust from the creek. Not the usual environment for a computer.

One day David arrived on his bike with a large tub and an aquarium heater. He set the two chemical bottles in the tub, filled it with water, inserted the heater, set the temperature gauge and what do you know? Perfect film. Graphic design, no problem. Paste-up was a breeze.

David sized type, picked out fonts, and dealt with all of our advertisers like a pro. Photos used for the paper had to go through a halftone process. Colin was in charge