Autobiography of Chautauqua legend Norton to be released at guild gala

Leah Harrison | Staff Writer

About a year before her death, Florence Norton dictated her memoir to her caretaker, Alice O’Grady, over breakfast each morning. The autobiography, titled Flossie: Recollections of the Life of Florence H. Norton 1913-2011, will be released during the Chautauqua Opera Guild’s annual gala at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Webb’s Restaurant.

The gala is one of the Opera Guild’s fundraisers for the Chautauqua Opera Young Artists Program. Proceeds from the event fund merit-based monetary awards for the opera company’s singers. The amount given depends on the guild’s fundraisers. Hale Oliver and Virginia DiPucci are event co-chairs.

Florence championed opera at Chautauqua Institution, a program with strong ties to the Norton family. Her husband’s grandmother, Lucy Norton, funded the construction of Norton Hall in 1929.

The body of Flossie is made up of the transcribed memoir but includes many photographs taken by her husband, Paul, as well as letters and notes from friends and family. Florence’s daughter, Cynthia Norton, contributed to and edited the book.

Cynthia did not have exact intentions for the story of her mother’s life. She was urged to document it and took on the challenge for her own benefit, hoping others might find the stories interesting. She did not realize the bulk or quality of work O’Grady, a writer, had been doing until her mother died.

“I thought she was just taking notes,” Cynthia said. “I didn’t understand until my mother died that Alice had actually written word-for-word what my mother said. I’m just so grateful that, at that age, she was able to be both engaging and coherent.”

O’Grady and Norton will sign complimentary copies of the book at the gala during the cocktail reception, from 5:30 to 7 p.m., when dinner will be served. Chautauqua Opera Young Artists will provide musical entertainment beginning at 8 p.m.

To reserve a place at the gala, mail checks for $75 per person with a name, address and phone number or email address where you can be reached to Judy Oliver, PO Box V, Chautauqua, NY, 14722. Make checks payable to Chautauqua Opera Guild.

The Chautauqua Suites trolley will provide transportation between the Chautauqua Institution Main Gate and Webb’s Restaurant beginning at 5:30 p.m.