OCEANSIDE — “Smile at the judge and you’ll win.”
That’s the mantra Norma Walker always used to tell her daughter, Nancy Walker. Norma herself seemed to live by that mantra, and it worked out well for her during her 96 years of life.
When she was the young Norma Ellis, she was a model in the area. She won several beauty contests, including the titles of Miss Laguna Beach, Miss Oceanside and Miss San Diego County. She was even asked to screen for Hollywood, but her daughter said she was afraid to without a formal mentor or anything of the sort to train her.
“A friend would call and say there’s a competition in Oceanside you should go to,” Nancy said. “She would just win. She was beautiful — she had a beautiful smile and was a loving, positive person.”
Nancy thinks her mother’s positivity was what contributed to her living a long life. Norma was born Dec. 15, 1921 and died Oct. 19, 2018. She would have been 97 next month.
“She had a smile when she woke up in the morning and when she went to sleep at night,” Nancy said.
Norma was even in the Air Force for six months, which she left after she found out she couldn’t be an officer without a college education.
Norma lived most of her life in Southern California. According to Nancy, her mother was born in the Santa Margarita Ranch House on Camp Pendleton’s base, attended Oceanside High School and spent the last years of her life living in Carlsbad. After leaving the Air Force, she began working for Douglas Aircraft, where she met her husband.
Norma Ellis and Joe Walker went out on their first date together, and saw each other each night during the following week. Joe then asked Norma if she would like to either go to Santa Barbara for the weekend with him, or if she would like to go to Yuma and get married.
She chose the latter. After only knowing each other for seven days, the two got married.
“Their courtship was so short because of the war,” said Bob Walker, Joe and Norma’s son. “You didn’t have time to date in those days because everybody had to be working so hard just to get by.”
They raised their three children — Nancy, Bob and Bill — in Newport Beach. They eventually moved around again and settled in Carlsbad where they lived together until Joe died in 1999.
Nancy and Bob’s brother, Bill, died several years ago.
According to Bob, both of his parents were talented at various things.
“Mom was very artistic and it rubbed onto us,” he said, adding that his father built his mother a kiln so she could make ceramics at home. She was also quite good at painting her ceramics, including every detail right “down to the eyelashes.”
Norma also taught herself how to cook, made invitations for people using calligraphy and was quite the talented seamstress. Bob picked up his mother’s sewing talent, which he says is similar to the carpentry work he does.
Nancy and Bob’s parents also encouraged their children throughout their lives. Bob was encouraged to take painting lessons when he was a young boy, and eventually went on to become an architect. His sister, Nancy, is “quite the talented singer” as well as a gourmet chef and “chronic overachiever,” among the many hats she wears.
In fact, Nancy sang at the White House twice because of her mother. In 1999, Norma wrote to President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton describing how talented her daughter was and how she wanted to sing in the White House. She also sent Nancy’s Christmas CD with the letter. Some time later, Nancy and Norma traveled to the White House, where they took a private tour and Nancy sang to a group of secret service members and their families.
Norma did it again just a few years ago when she wrote to President Barack Obama about her daughter, sending her jazz album instead.
“Our parents expected a lot from us, but we also had their support,” Nancy said. “They didn’t push anything on us, they let us be who we were.”
Norma’s positive attitude was particularly encouraging for her children.
“Her positive attitude had a real impact on all of our lives,” Nancy said of her mother. “You can be, do or have whatever you want in life — she never gave us limiting beliefs.”
One of the biggest impacts on the Walker siblings was how much they were loved.
“When I was a young girl, either 8 or 10, I asked my mother, ‘How did you get all of us to love each other so much?’ We all loved each other so much and we knew it came from her,” Nancy recalled. “She was just very loving and kind.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son