Pulling from her lifelong interest in art, history, and politics, this business owner reminds us to stay involved in the political process.
Deborah Norman’s passion for history connects two major sides of her. On one hand, Norman is the owner of Stonington small business Grand and Water Antiques, and on the other, she is a member of the town’s board of Finance and a politically involved community member.
When Norman began studying history and political science in college, she realized that she especially enjoyed art history classes which piqued her interest in antiques. Interning in politics throughout college, Norman also realized that the antique world spoke to her which ultimately led to start her own antiques business, Grand and Water Antiques. This Stonington business is now over 25 years old and has connected Norman with clients across the country. Each piece she collects has a special story and history that Norman learns and shares with its next owner. She describes this process as “an honor” because when she’s collecting antiques, her clients trust her and want her “to do right by them.” In many cases, Norman helps pass on items that have been in a family for generations and things that are very meaningful to their original owners.
“I’m a storyteller because they tell these stories and I pass them onto people,” Norman said.
Though her professional path ended up focusing on her passion for art, Norman’s passion for government clearly impacted her life. She was previously the constable in Stonington and was sworn in as a member on the town’s Board of Finance in 2019.
Norman said that this position taught her so much about how a town was run, with the pandemic presenting new challenges. With each request, Norman learns about a new problem or need in her town and she works hard to make sure that community members feel heard and are supported.
“I find that if people are just heard, that helps immensely,” Norman said. “When people are heard, they’ll work with you instead of against you.”
I find that if people are just heard, that helps immensely.
Her position puts her at the center of resolving some issues during the pandemic. This seven-person body approves or denies all requests for town funds and is currently working through COVID-related requests, namely emergency funds for back to school plans. Though members of the Board have different political affiliations, they strive to vote unanimously and are working hard to make sure that Stonington has what it needs to keep people safe. They are reacting in real-time to the multiple challenges towns across the country are facing.
Before serving on the Board, Norman worked on political campaigns where she learned the nuances of grassroots politics. This led her to knock on people’s doors which, though tiring work, was exciting because she got to hear what people had to say about different issues impacting them. “You have to be the voice of change. You can’t just talk about it. That’s one thing I try to tell my friends…it doesn’t have to be huge. Be on a board, volunteer.”
No matter how she chooses to get involved, it is clear that Norman is putting in the work on her own time as well. In reaction to the unrest in our nation right now, Norman asked “how could we not talk about it?” and explained the many ways in which she was listening and learning during this time. Pulling from her history background, Norman also finds comfort in lessons we have already learned and times that the country has overcome obstacles.
“We are in a democracy. Thank God,” she said. “We have to find ways to make people rise up and vote.”
We are in a democracy. Thank God. We have to find ways to make people rise up and vote.
Whether she’s working on campaigns, getting involved with her local DTC, serving in public office, or just connecting with friends, politics, and working toward making the nation better plays an important role in Norman’s life. This passion luckily also brought her to Emerge. Coming to training on her business’ busiest day, Norman said that Emerge helped get her out of her comfort zone and really find her voice.
She talked about all the women she connected with and learned from, especially her friend and fellow classmate Lisa Tepper Bates, who encouraged her to join Emerge (whose profile you can read about here). When talking about Tepper Bates, Norman said she’s a “rockstar” and proudly remarked about her friend’s listening and leadership skills. While being great friends (who meet socially distantly to talk about their lives and latest projects), their relationship is also an example of the empowering female friendships that we all need, especially when engaging in political work.
Norman also has some important advice to share, saying that in politics, it is important that you “don’t lose your integrity and be authentic…that, and wear some really comfortable shoes.” Her time on the Board of Finance has also solidified the importance of making sure that you can deliver on promises. Finally, for women interested in politics, she said “you don’t have to know everything. You can start and learn as you go. Lisa [Tepper Bates] taught me that.”
Don’t lose your integrity and be authentic…that, and wear some really comfortable shoes.
Norman also has some bright news to share during this time. As the owner of Grand and Water Antiques, Norman was one of the many small businesses impacted by COVID-19. While she put her passion for antiques and business expertise to use to adapt, dedicated clients reached out to support her and her small town came together. She described the help that PPE and other Connecticut loans provided, and most of all, the support from her community that helped her survive the pandemic.
She said that “people are very kind,” and she was able to get over countless hurdles in order to safely open and run her business again today. She remarked that there are small silver linings coming from this time, as evidenced by everyone’s willingness to come together. The patience we have all had to practice and remembering how special it is to go out to eat are two things that came to mind. Norman also wants to spread this kindness, frustrated by the fact that “it’s hard when you wear a mask because they can’t see your smile.” But, Norman still makes her gratitude and enthusiasm for her community known by her active role in it.
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