Normand Fernand Auger, 86, of Charlottesville, Va. (born in Granby, Province of Quebec) beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, and uncle, passed away early Saturday morning, August 26, 2023, at home surrounded by family. He lived a wonderful and extraordinary life. He was the sixth of nine children of Catherine Leduc Auger and Urbain Auger, a Québécois dairy farmer, and immigrated with his family to North Troy, Vermont in 1952.
The family’s first farm in Granby was tiny, with two cows, a plow horse, and a large garden. The farmhouse had no electricity and was heated with a wood burning stove. Running water was hand-pumped in the kitchen. Norm studied by a kerosene lamp, and when nature called, he went to the out-house. There were two small ground-level bedrooms for the parents and three girls, and the six boys slept in the second-floor loft. Norm recalled waking up on winter mornings and finding a dusting of snow inside certain rooms in the house.
When Norm was 12 years old, he and his brother Robert joined the oldest brother, Gaston, in a trapeze/high wire act he had formed. The boys called themselves the Auger Trio, and they performed in fairs and circuses throughout Eastern Canada, including the Forum in Montreal. In the U.S., they performed in New England, and even came as far south as Virginia Beach. In their shows, they executed high wire tricks on foot and on bicycles and trapeze stunts culminating in the Dive of Death which involved someone leaping off a platform to be caught by breakaway ropes as high up as 85 feet in the air--all without a net. Often, after nights of such death-defying feats and the labor of breaking down the equipment, loading the truck and driving back home, Norm and Robert would head straight to the barn and back to work milking the farm’s cows. The Auger Trio performed for ten years, after which Norm went on to perform solo under the name of The Great Norman until 1964.
The Auger family prospered with the help of the boys’ earnings from the Auger Trio--young Norm gave his share to his parents--and when he was 15 years old, the family purchased a 300-acre dairy farm complete with a large house that had electricity and running water, in North Troy, Vermont. With the family’s immigration to the United States, Norm began to speak English in earnest.
Norm’s education was remarkable, multifaceted, and driven by his curiosity and mechanical and mathematical instincts. He went from elementary school in a one room rural schoolhouse to Christ the King Catholic School in the town of Granby. When Norm was 13 years old, he transferred to trade school to become a carpenter. There, he learned carpentry, electricity, plumbing, and wood working in addition to standard academic courses. Norm practiced the trades briefly, repairing his family’s home, making furniture, moving a silo, and nearly completed a full-size glider airplane. Always curious, and with a mind for machinery, he taught himself how to repair the farm’s vehicles. In 1957, Norm enlisted in the Army and served as a paratrooper in the elite 82nd Airborne Division. He earned his GED while in the Army, and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
After growing up on the flying trapeze, and spending two years jumping out of airplanes, Norm was inspired to learn how to fly an airplane. He took lessons from Cecil Wright, the Newport, VT Airport manager and instructor and earned his pilot’s license. His dream of becoming a test pilot was thwarted when it was discovered that he had red/green colorblindness. Undeterred, Norm continued to fly his Cessna, Mooney, and Cherokee airplanes (which he owned at different times in his life) all over the U.S. and Canada until failing health ultimately made that impossible in 2011.
Norm met the love of his life at a dance in Newport, VT. Thérèse Riendeau was sitting with three friends, and Norm had to decide which girl he’d ask to dance. Providentially, he chose his future wife, Thérèse. She realized there was something special about him later that evening when he walked her out of the dance and carried her in his arms over a large snowbank. They started dating and married five years later. Their first child, Diane, was born nine months and ten days after their honeymoon at Niagara Falls.
Norm worked for a time at Kraft Foods testing farmers’ milk, where a friend suggested that he go to college. As a result, Norm became the first of his family to pursue higher education. At first, his family disapproved of his stopping work to attend college, but it wasn’t long before they took pride in his academic accomplishments. Thérèse worked as a bookkeeper to support the family, while Norm started school in 1963 at Lyndon State College, in Lyndonville, VT. In a year, he transferred to the University of Vermont where he earned his BA in Mathematics in 1966. He immediately started working on his master’s degree and teaching math at Lyndon State College.
During that time, the Apollo program was heating up. On a longshot, Norm applied for a job in the NASA Apollo program and was hired. Norm, Thérèse and Diane moved to Cocoa, FL where they lived for a year, before NASA decided to send Norm back to the University of Vermont for a semester to finish his master’s degree. Norm and the family returned to Cocoa, FL where he worked from 1967 to 1972 for the Apollo program training the astronauts to use the controls in the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) and started work on his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, which he completed in 1977.
It was a magical time for the family in Florida. Getting to work personally with the astronauts who were flying to the moon, and watching the Apollo launches from Cape Canaveral was a dream come true for the farm boy from Quebec. Norm would often marvel at how in a short span of 17 years he moved from life as a farm boy with no electricity to a mathematician training astronauts how to land the Lunar Module on the moon. Diane remembers her father waking her up from a sound sleep to watch a TV broadcast of Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon. Florida became a favorite destination for the extended family, most of whom made annual treks from Vermont and Quebec for large holiday gatherings. During their years in Florida, two boys were born to Norm and Thérèse: Erik and Michael.
When the Apollo Program packed up in 1972 and headed to Houston, Norm thought that was too far from his family in Vermont and Quebec, and transferred to the Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC) in Dahlgren, VA moving the family to Fredericksburg, VA. There he worked on research and development of various Naval gun fire systems, heading the development of the AEGIS DDG-51 Gun Weapon System, becoming Principal Mathematician for the Weapons System Department, and serving as Technical Director of the NATO AAW Weapons System Program. He earned the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1986. In addition to NSWC, Norm commuted to Washington D.C. to work for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). After he retired in 1994, Norm worked as a defense contractor for FMC for five years. Norm would sometimes say he never worked a day in his life because he loved what he did so much. In 2005, after Erik and Michael moved to the Midwest with their families, Norm and Thérèse left their Fredericksburg home of 34 years to be closer to Diane and her family in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Norm was a devoted father, husband, and provider. Once he began working at NASA, Thérèse was able to retire from work and be a fulltime homemaker and earned her PhT (Put Hubby Through) degree. Norm put all three of his children through college, and as their built-in tutor, he made sure they thoroughly understood their mathematics. Diane remembers the many times she would need help with a math problem and Norm would patiently sit with her and explain complex (or at least what seemed so to Diane) math concepts over and over again. Confused, she would sob and weep in frustration, but Norm would persist until she would have a breakthrough and could smile through her tears saying, “now I get it!” Norm had a dream that all three of his children would become mathematicians but was only 66.6% successful; one of the children chose a different academic path, opting to “be content to do arithmetic for the rest of his life!” as Norm wryly put it.
When Diane joined the cross-country team in high school, Norm would jog with her and help her with training. He would later run in many long-distance races such as the 10 miler in Belmont, NH, and the famous Marine Corps Marathon, which he frequently ran with his brother, Robert. When his boys were old enough to play Little League, he became the team coach. And when they fell in love with bike racing, he would ride with, train, and coach them. Erik, Mike and Norm’s brother, Robert, fondly remember their great bike adventure, riding from Fredericksburg to Newport, Vermont in 1994.
Norm was also an avid auto mechanic. He purchased an old antique Mercedes Benz and completely restored it. He pulled the engine and the transmission, repaired them, and reinstalled them. He did the body work himself, learning how to putty and paint cars. He serviced and repaired his own cars for most of his life, often noting that “he who takes care of himself is well taken care of!” His kids always knew where to go when they had mechanical issues. Norm also got into personal computers early on and became the family’s one-man Geek Squad going from one family member’s home to another’s fixing computer problems.
When Norm retired, he fulfilled another of his dreams, to build a house for himself with his own hands on 20 acres in Newport Center, VT, near the old farm in North Troy. Norm did an enormous amount of the labor himself at the young age of 61, borrowing labor where he could from family members and friends, but always running the job himself. Norm and Thérèse would go on to spend 22 summers from May to September in their Vermont home which became a summer mecca for the whole family. Most summers there would be a family reunion including now-adult children, their spouses, grandchildren, and extended family. The family shared many happy days sitting on the porches and enjoying the views of Jay Peak, the neighboring Vermont farms, and their green pastures, hills, and valleys; and having boisterous conversations, and holding competitive cornhole tournaments in the backyard.
For all of his adventures and accomplishments, the most important thing in Norm’s life was family, and
the rock and foundation of his family life was Thérèse. Together they were a true partnership. They
shared the burdens and joys of marriage and family life beautifully, raising their family in the Catholic
Church and creating an example of Christian marriage for all to be strengthened and nourished by.
Their children do not remember any fighting, only deep friendship. In his last years, Norm willingly turned over his care to Thérèse, who monitored, guided, nursed, and loved him in the most beautiful way. His last gesture was to take her hand and kiss it to share how deeply he loved and appreciated her.
Norm is survived by his beloved wife of 62 years, Thérèse Auger, his daughter Diane and her husband, Garrett Smith, and their three children, Lloyd, Minor, and Catie Claire; his son Erik and his wife Laura Auger, and their three children, David, Nolan, and John; and his son Michael and his wife Janet Auger, and Mike’s four children, Isabel, Maggie, Sam, and Annie; and his three remaining siblings, Robert Auger, Claudette Chalifoux, and Philippe Auger; and many nieces and nephews. He will be dearly missed by his family. Norm was blessed with a truly wonderful life, and in turn blessed all who knew and loved him.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Norm at Holy Comforter Catholic Church this Wednesday, August 30, 2023. Visitation will take place at 1 PM at the church, followed by Mass at 2 PM.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Norm at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Newport, VT next Tuesday, September 5, 2023. Visitation will take place at 10 AM at the church, followed by Mass at 11 AM. Committal will take place at St. Mary’s Cemetery following Mass.