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Norman T. French

(1918-2013)

Just three weeks shy of his 95th birthday, Norman T. French passed away early on June 2, 2013 at his home in Conway with his family by his side.

Norman was born on June 21, 1918 in Bristol, CT, to Calvin and Sara French. He graduated from Bristol High School and married Thelma Clark on Oct. 10, 1942. They would be married for 63 years and raised three children.

Norman was very independent and wanted to work for himself. He worked as a machinist and as a chicken farmer before taking welding lessons. He constructed a truck-mounted machine repair shop, calling it the Rolling Shop, and moved it from farm to farm fixing machinery. He built his house in Burlington, CT, cutting trees and pulling the logs to the building site with Thelma as his building partner. During the war years, he and Thelma and family lived in the house with no electricity or running water.

In 1954, he purchased Palmer Brothers, a business that built and sold large cider presses. This became Orchard Equipment and Supply Co. (now OESCO, Inc.). During the first few years, times were lean and it was often a struggle to make ends meet. The entire family worked at the business - Thelma running the office, and the kids doing whatever they could with the oldest, Russ, becoming more and more involved in the operation, assuming the role of president in 1996. In ""retirement"", Norman continued working at the shop, initially in the machine shop, and more recently in the office, because it gave him great joy to see the company flourish.

While in Connecticut, Norman was active in 4-H, president of the Hartford County 4-H Fair Association, and instrumental in the development of a new Hartford County 4-H camp. He also spearheaded efforts to build a fire station in his rural neighborhood in Burlington, donating land for the building. He and Thelma enjoyed dancing - especially the polka - and he was the caller for many local square dances.

In 1967, he took another risk and moved the family, the business, and several employees to Conway. The business thrived and expanded, adding valued employees as well as valued customers. Norman was active in the community serving on the School Board for many years and then as Assessor for 23 years. He was an active member of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers Assoc. while supporting numerous other agricultural associations throughout the Northeast. In 1998, he was recognized by the Connecticut Pomological Society with the Award of Merit for his contribution to the industry with his work in spraying technology.

Norman was a Renaissance man, although he probably wouldn't like that title. He could turn his hand at just about anything from repairing an engine to running a successful business, from designing a machine for cutting strawberry runners to restoring an old fireplace. He could give talks on implementing an orchard roadside stand or rebuild a boat. Of course, he didn't always put the finishing touches on his projects, as his wife and children would attest. He supported town and church activities and was the wind beneath Thelma's wings in her many projects.

He was an active supporter of the Field Memorial Library in Conway, the United Congregational Church, and the Indian Mobile Mission in Arizona. For over 40 years (including 2012), Norm sent shoes to the Indian mission for kids in need. He was very committed to his community, offering whatever was necessary from a truck to pull a parade float to water for the fire department. He traveled widely, mostly on business, around the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Italy.

He was a mentor and coach, not just to his children, but to many who came in contact with him. To all of them, he was a symbol that, with hard work, you could overcome any obstacle, and that a life should be lived with dignity. He was down to earth, practical, persevering, and truly a self-made man.

He was predeceased by his wife, Thelma, in 2005. He leaves behind his sister, Mavis Davis of Simsbury, CT; his children, Russell and his partner, Kate, of Conway, Jo-Ann (Driscoll) of Carlisle and Donna (Dunn) of Springfield; four grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and an untold number of friends and acquaintances whose lives he touched.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Field Memorial Library (Conway, MA), the Indian Mobile Mission (P.O. Box 838, Snowflake, AZ 85937), or the Ronald J. Prokopy Memorial Endowment, UMass College of Natural Sciences (134 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01002).

A service celebrating his life will be held on June 15 at 11 a.m. on the covered bridge in Conway, just beyond the shop he loved so much.