Driving Miss Norma: 91-Year-Old Who Hit The Road After Cancer Diagnosis Dies

Oct 7, 2016
Originally published on October 17, 2016 7:19 pm

Tim Bauerschmidt left home when he was 19. He would call or visit his parents in Michigan occasionally. Decades went by.

After his father died last year, he knew his mother couldn't live by herself. She was 90, and he realized he didn't know her that well.

"I had some stilted conversations," says Bauerschmidt. "She'd be on the other end of the phone when I talked to my dad. I'd have to say, 'Mom, are you there? Are you on the line?' [She would say] 'Oh yeah, I'm here.' "

Bauerschmidt says it was like his mom, Norma, lived in the shadow of his dad. The pair were married for 67 years. Two days after he died, Norma was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. The doctor recommended a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

"She said, 'Nope, I'm not doing any of that,' " says Ramie Liddle, Bauerschmidt's wife.

The couple offered to have Norma come live with them. But there was a catch — they live in an RV and travel full time.

Liddle says Norma took about two minutes and gave them her answer.

"I'm 90-years-old," Liddle recalls Norma saying. "I'm hitting the road. Let's go have some fun. I don't want to spend another minute in the doctor's office."

Last summer, Norma, Ramie, Tim and the couple's poodle, Ringo, embarked on a year-long adventure across the U.S.

Before she was married, Norma served in the Navy. She was a nurse at a hospital in San Diego during World War II. After that, she lived in Michigan, rarely venturing far from home.

When the foursome pulled away in the RV, Norma began to experience many firsts.

Bauerschmidt says she had never even been to Wisconsin, the state next to Michigan. There were so many foods she never tried: buffalo burgers, fried green tomatoes, lobster and oysters.

"She realized quickly that she loved key lime pie," Liddle says.

Over the course of the year, they traveled nearly 13,000 miles and slept in over 75 locations in 32 states. They visited dozens of national parks, monuments and recreation areas.

Norma even experienced some smaller things, like taking off in a hot air balloon, riding a horse and getting a pedicure.

At the beginning of their trip, Liddle started to document their adventures.

"I decided to put it on Facebook," Liddle says. "I used to keep a travel blog because Tim and I were always on the road and honestly, I liked to let my mom, who lives in Pittsburgh, know where we were."

She named the Facebook page "Driving Ms. Norma," and after a few months, people beyond Liddle's mom started to take notice. A website picked up on it, and the page gained hundreds of thousands of followers.

People around the world were in awe of Norma — the way Ramie and Tim were.

"I used to say 'No,' to a lot of things," Bauerschmidt says. "My knee jerk reaction to most things – no, no – but now I hold my tongue and I consider it, and I'm saying 'Yes,' to uncomfortable situations."

Norma died last week at the age of 91. Her memorial service was held on Friday in Friday Harbor, Wash. — on the other side of the country from where her RV adventures began.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This next story is about learning to live in the moment. Tim Bauerschmidt left home when he was 19. He would call or visit his parents in Michigan occasionally. Decades went by.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

After his father died last year, he knew his mother couldn't live by herself. She was 90. And he realized...

TIM BAUERSCHMIDT: I really didn't know my mom. I had some stilted conversations. She'd be on the other end of the phone when I talked to my dad. I'd have to say, Mom, are you there? Are you are on the line? Oh, yeah, I'm here.

MCEVERS: Tim says it was like his mom, Norma Bauerschmidt, was always in the shadow of his dad. They had been married for 67 years. And two days after he died, Norma, who was already grieving, was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. The doctor recommended a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

RAMIE LIDDLE: She said, nope, I'm not doing any of that.

CORNISH: That's Ramie Liddle, Tim's wife. The couple offered to have Norma come live with them, but there was a catch. They live in an RV and travel full-time. Ramie says that Norma took about two minutes and then gave them her answer.

LIDDLE: I'm 90-years-old, I'm hitting the road. Let's go have some fun. I don't want to spend another minute in a doctor's office.

MCEVERS: And so last summer marked the start of a year-long adventure for Norma, Ramie, Tim and the couple's poodle Ringo (ph). Before she was married, Norma had served in the Navy. She was a nurse at a hospital in San Diego during World War II. After that, her life was contained to Michigan.

CORNISH: So as soon as the foursome pulled away in the RV, Norma experienced many firsts.

BAUERSCHMIDT: Never been to Wisconsin, the state next to Michigan...

LIDDLE: Yeah.

BAUERSCHMIDT: ...I've never been here.

LIDDLE: Yeah.

BAUERSCHMIDT: Foods she'd never ate.

LIDDLE: A buffalo burger, a lobster, oysters. She realized real quickly that she loves key lime pie.

BAUERSCHMIDT: Or just attractions, she's never seen the Grand Canyon. She'd never seen any of the National Parks. She's never seen Disneyland.

LIDDLE: Never been to Florida.

BAUERSCHMIDT: Never been to Florida, never stayed at a stranger's house.

CORNISH: Ramie started to document their adventures.

LIDDLE: Yeah, I decided to put it on Facebook. I used to keep a travel blog because Tim and I were always on the road. And honestly, I liked to let my mom, who lives in Pittsburgh, know where we were.

MCEVERS: She named the Facebook page Driving Miss Norma. And after a few months, people beyond Ramie's mom started to take notice. A website picked up on it, and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of followers.

CORNISH: People around the world were in awe of Norma, the way Ramie and Tim were.

BAUERSCHMIDT: I used to say no to a lot of things. My knee-jerk reaction to most things, no, no. But now I hold my tongue and I consider it. And I'm saying yes to uncomfortable situations.

MCEVERS: Norma Bauerschmidt died last week at the age of 91. Her memorial service is today in Friday Harbor, Wash., on the other side of the country from where her RV adventures began. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.