Standing before a crowded exhibit hall during her retirement reception, Georgette Norman said she was recently asked what the best part of her job was.
"For me the best part is that I am native Montgomerian," she said. "I've lived a bunch of places and around, and was constantly asked about Montgomery—and it was always in the negative. You're last in everything. And for me the thing is, shake my hand and thank me. Because as Alabamans, we aired our dirty laundry to the world and made the world a better place."
For more than 13 years, Norman has helped ensure that an important chapter in the airing of Alabama's dirty laundry—the Montgomery Bus Boycott—remains understood and relevant to current generations in her role as director of Troy University's Rosa Parks Museum. She will retire at the end of September, and under her leadership the museum has hosted more than 564,000 visitors from around the world who have heard the story of Rosa Parks and the events Dec. 1, 1955.
Speaking to friends and supporters at her retirement reception in September, Norman said the work of the museum was not merely about preserving the past, but working towards a better future.
"It's not about back then," Norman said. "It's about we now stand in the present ... and how much of this present looks like the past if we don't begin this moment to challenge ourselves to continue on the journey."
During the retirement reception, Troy University leaders praised Norman's vision and leadership as the Rosa Parks Museum's first director.
Ray White, the former Vice Chancellor for the Montgomery Campus and current Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, recalled how Norman came aboard a year after the Rosa Parks Museum opened and gave a summary of Norman's many accomplishments as director. Norman brought more than 70 art exhibits to the museum, hosted lectures, panel discussions and book signings by top academics and artists, and organized outreach events that brought the work of museum into classrooms and community centers across Montgomery.
"I could tell you much, much more, but the only thing I can say is that Georgette, you've done good," White said.
Troy University Board of Trustees member Lamar P. Higgins said that under Norman's leadership the Rosa Parks Museum has become a place that brings people together.
"Georgette has been an asset to this University," Higgins said. "More than anything else, she has united people. She has brought people here that otherwise would not be here, and the fact that Georgette would be a part of this has helped to make this museum and this University a great place to be."
Norman is a 1963 graduate of the Alabama State Laboratory High School, and an alumna of Fisk University and Hampton University. She pursued further studies at the University of Miami in Florida. Before joining the Museum, she had been serving as a teacher in the Virgin Islands.
Reflecting on the future of the museum, Norman encouraged University leaders to provide support to whomever steps into the director's role.
"The University had no idea who I was … but they gave me the chance to work my vision," Norman said. "The only thing I ask is that, whoever comes behind me, the question you ask is 'What's your vision?' And if you are able to accept that vision, give them the support to do it."
Dr. Lance Tatum, Vice Chancellor for Troy University's Montgomery Campus, presents an engraved clock to Georgette Norman, the first director of the Rosa Parks Museum, during her retirement reception on Thursday, Sept. 11. Norman has served as director for more than 13 years, and will retire at the end of September.