A lifetime of nurturing
Norma Nichols had a lifelong love of the arts, and she spent nearly a lifetime nurturing it in others. She nurtured it in her students over a 20-year teaching career at Farrington and McKinley high schools. She encouraged it in her neighbors and friends as a volunteer with the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawai‘i Opera Theatre, the Diamond Head Theatre, Chamber Music Hawai‘i, the East-West Film Festival, and the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra. She cultivated it in artists as the director of the Gallery on the Pali for 25 years.
Through her philanthropy, she continues to influence patrons and performers. Nichols bequeathed a portion of her estate to establish the Norma Bird Nichols, PhD Asian Theatre Endowment Fund. Her gift will support Asian theater productions in the UH Mānoa’s Department of Theatre and Dance.
Nichols believed in students’ building self-esteem through perpetuating their culture.
“Norma and I would have lunch sometimes, or I’d run into her at performance events,” says Dr. Kirstin Pauka, director of the UH Mānoa Asian Theatre Program. “She was an educator at heart and really cared about bringing the arts into schools. This is why she supported our program.”
A big heart; a genuine person
She earned a bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in art, and a doctorate in American Studies, all at UH Mānoa, the school she remained connected to. Her cancer treatments strengthened this connection, as her oncologist was also a researcher at the UH Cancer Center.
Dr. Randall Holcombe, UH Cancer Center director, says, “Norma was a genuine person with a very big heart. She shared with me the hardship her friends had in leaving the islands for therapy and treatment, so she was very excited about a clinical research center to provide novel trials in Hawai‘i.”
Before her death in July 2018, Nichols also established the Norma Bird Nichols, PhD Fund for Innovative Clinical Research. This fund will provide bridge grants, supporting researchers whose groundbreaking exploration could lead to publication and larger grants.
“While I may not see a cure in my lifetime,” she said, “I know that research has come a long way, just in the last couple of decades. I hope my gift can help these scientists make more progress, faster.”
“Norma’s commitment was profound,” says Holcombe. “She truly cared for the future of the UH Cancer Center, and what it could do to help people in Hawai‘i. If she were here today, she would be so happy with our building the Clinical Research Center, and she would be pleased to see how her gift is supporting it.”
Through these cultural and scientific gifts of her estate, and through the memories of her loved ones, Nichols remains connected to her alma mater, future students, and Hawai‘i’s people.