Norma-Lee, a western swing artist who twice served as honorary mayor of Rio Linda/Elverta, died June 29 of cancer, her family said. She was 58.
With a single name and a penchant for one-liners, Norma-Lee was a colorful Canadian who migrated to California in 1980 and settled among free-spirited residents of Rio Linda and Elverta. She responded to questions about her last name with “Normally, I’m Norma-Lee” and said that she dropped her last name as a statement about women’s independence from men.
“It’s another one of my half-baked ideas,” she told The Bee in 2003. “I’m not an adverb, but close.”
Norma-Lee was a community fixture as a longtime volunteer for the Rio Linda/Elverta Chamber of Commerce. Elected honorary mayor of Rio Linda/Elverta in 2003 and 2010, she used her position to speak out against illegal dumping and other neighborhood concerns.
She served on local improvement committees and was active in the Elkhorn Moose Lodge and the American Legion. She knitted and crocheted hoodies for toddlers as a member of Elder Craftsmen, a volunteer group that makes quilts and clothes for seniors, children and veterans.
Norma-Lee was also a talented songwriter and musician who had sung in public since childhood and played guitar and fiddle. Introduced to western swing in Sacramento, she joined the Western Swing Society in 1983 and served in many positions, including treasurer, secretary and newsletter editor.
“She loved to perform,” said Bill Enyeart of the Western Swing Society. “She played a little bit of fiddle, but she really loved to sing. Everybody enjoyed listening to her.”
Norma-Lee formed a band, the Maple Sugar Gang, and collaborated as a songwriter with Dayna Wills, a niece of western swing legend Bob Wills. One of their tunes, “Sing Faded Love, Dayna Gayle,” won the 2000 Song of the Year Award from the Academy of Western Artists.
The former Norma Louise Weatherbee was born in 1954 in Brantford, Ontario. Her father, Derald “Boots” Weatherbee, was a champion fiddler who played on broadcaster Ted Mack’s amateur show.
She performed in Canada before traveling around the United States and settling in California. She had no children during two marriages and was predeceased in December by her husband of about 25 years, Donald “Rocky” Kennedy.
Norma-Lee, who stopped playing guitar after she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago, wrote songs that have been recorded by other artists and belonged to the Nashville Songwriters Association. She also published a book of poetry and a musical mystery novel.
She was inducted into the Lincoln Country Music Roundup Hall of Honor and into western swing halls of fame in Sacramento and Seattle. She is set this summer to be added to the hall of fame of the Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest.
She rescued unwanted cats and dogs and was devoted to her three pet Chihuahuas. She loved all animals, even pests.
“She wouldn’t let you kill a fly,” said her sister Joyce Hutson. “You had to catch it and take it outside.”