Norah Jamison Torrey, who went by Noreen, died peacefully in her sleep on June 8, 2020, at the age of 97 at her daughter’s home in Greenfield, MA. Born in County Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1923, she was the daughter of the Reverend Harold and Mrs. Isobel Lea-Wilson of England and had three siblings.
As an infant, Noreen travelled with her family by boat to India and spent her first five years there, where her father, a Church of England missionary, ran a school for boys in a village near Bombay (now Mumbai). In 1928, she left India to attend an English boarding school with her siblings, while her parents returned to India for three years. After their return to England, Noreen lived with them and her siblings in Eastbourne, Sussex, and then Deal, Kent, until the outbreak of World War II. During the war, Noreen served for four years as a WAAF in the Royal Air Force, stationed in Northern Ireland for two years, where she met her future husband, John Gordon Torrey, who was an American officer in charge of a military hospital. They married in June 1949 in Oxted, Surrey, and two weeks later traveled by ship to the United States, where Noreen became a U.S. citizen.
Noreen and her husband settled in California, where they lived in the Bay Area for eleven years, while her husband worked as an instructor of Botany at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1956, they left California for a year-long sabbatical in Cambridge, England, where Noreen was reunited with her family for the first time in seven years. Other sabbaticals over the years took them to Germany, Scotland, Japan, and Australia.
In 1960 the family relocated to the East Coast when her husband accepted a professorship at Harvard University. They lived in Belmont, Massachusetts for twelve years, where their children attended Belmont Public Schools. In 1972, six years after the birth of their last daughter, they moved to Petersham, MA, where they lived for five years. In 1977 they moved to Pelham, MA, so their youngest daughter could attend Amherst Public Schools, and then returned in 1983 to live at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, where they remained until settling in Greenfield in 1989.
Fulfilling an early childhood dream, Noreen took up the violin at age 50. She played in many musical groups, including string quartets, the Pioneer Valley Symphony and The Four Seasons, a local Greenfield orchestra. Violin was her joy and passion until she finally had to stop playing at the age of 82 due to her failing hearing.
Noreen was an avid reader and talented writer, and she filled the hours she had formerly spent playing the violin writing a memoir. The memoir recounts in detail her early memories of England, her experiences during World War II and her years in America, providing her family and friends an eloquent record of her life on two continents. She was a prolific correspondent, staying in touch with the many friends she had made throughout the years in the United States and abroad. She was very close to her family, most of whom lived in Britain, and she maintained contact with them, initially through letter writing, and later email, which she embraced with enthusiasm. She was an active member of the Greenfield YMCA, making many friends and continuing to exercise into her mid-90s.
Noreen’s husband died in 1993, shortly after his retirement. She is survived by her five loving daughters and their spouses: Jennifer Torrey of Greenfield; Joanna Torrey and Leigh Wood of Mamaroneck, NY; Susan Torrey and John Perry of Northfield,MA; Sarah Torrey and Jeff Migneault of Greenville, RI; and Carolyn and Jay Fedigan of Belmont, MA. She has seven grandchildren, Emma and Miles Johnson; Sophie Aronson; Nicholas and Jacob Migneault; Christopher and James Fedigan; and one great-grandchild, Ravi Bean-Johnson. Noreen was predeceased by her parents and an older sister and brother, all of England. She will be greatly missed by all who knew her for her independence and vitality, and her love of history, politics and books, as well as her keen ear for grammar.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Greenfield YMCA, where she earned a lifetime membership at the age of 90.
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