Phillip Earl Norwood was a fierce competitor who played his heart out and left everything on the field the night of April 23, 2017. “Coach Norwood,” to those who were fortunate enough to play for him during his beloved career in high school football, was a larger-than-life, tough and ornery, man’s man. He was also a loving and loyal son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and teacher.
Phil was born Jan. 29, 1949 to Paul Murry Norwood and Clovis Abilene Norwood (nee McLaughlin) of Mineral Springs, Ark. In Paul and Abilene’s home Phil and his siblings learned to put their faith in Jesus Christ, to love family, to work hard, and to serve others. These are the values that Phil endeavored to instill in his own family. As Phil’s kids were growing up he would often call out to them as they left the house, “Remember who you are and where you came from.”
Phil grew up in Mineral Springs where he attended school and played football. It’s there that he met Kathy Jane Wesson. Phil, the football captain, and Kathy, the homecoming queen, started dating their junior year in high school and never got over each other. Phil and Kathy were married in 1970. Over the next few years their marriage was blessed by the arrivals of three lovely daughters: Jennifer, Denise, and Shannon.
The Arkansas Razorbacks occupied a large space in Phil’s heart from the time he was a little boy until the end of his life. In 1967 Phil entered the University of Arkansas and fulfilled a childhood dream of playing football for the Hogs until injuries in both knees ended his career. But this did not diminish his passion for the Razorbacks – another value he would pass on to his children. Phil graduated from UA in 1972 with a business administration degree.
Phil began his coaching career at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in St. Louis, Mo. The class of ’76 held a special place in his heart but he fondly remembered all the students there and they remembered him. A Maplewood alumnus posted on Facebook: “Coach Norwood was truly a genuine man with a wonderful soul. He was a positive influence on all of us MRHers. I am honored to have known him.”
Phil and Kathy’s growing family moved back to Mineral Springs in 1977. There Phil coached his alma mater’s football team until 1982 when, in his words, he “had to grow up and get a real job” to support his family. The Norwoods then moved to Ashdown, Ark., where Phil put his degree to work as the shipping manager for Georgia Pacific. His career there ended in 1993 when he was stricken with the first of several heart attacks.
In recent years Phil continued to travel far and wide to cheer on his grandchildren in their sporting events and to call those Hogs. Even though health issues presented numerous challenges, Phil endeavored to live his life and love the people that made his life worth living. Through social media and personal interaction he stayed in touch with people from all the chapters of his life.
Maybe because of all the times he’d faced the reality of death or maybe because he grew up in a home where a lot was expected of him, Phil had a habit of saying to his girls, “I bet you’ll live” whenever any of them complained of a pain, injury, or insult. He said it so often that his girls joked they’d have those words inscribed on his tombstone. We’ll see. But whether they do that or not, Phil Norwood will live on because his life is writ large on the many lives he touched.
Phil Norwood is survived by Kathy, his wife of 46 years; his daughters, Jennifer Norwood Cross and her husband, Romeo, of Texarkana, Ark., Denise Norwood of Little Rock, Ark., Shannon Norwood Speer and her husband, Brad, of Little Rock, Ark.; beloved grandchildren, Kaitlyn Cross, Olivia Cross, JP Speer, and Jack Speer; as well as a host of siblings, nieces and nephews.
Services will be Thursday, April 27, 2017 at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Ashdown, Ark., with Bro. Butch Riddle officiating. A meal will follow the service. Interment will be at 2:30 p.m. at Mineral Springs Cemetery under the direction of Nashville Funeral Home. The family will receive friends at the funeral home on Wednesday night from 6 to 8. Memorials may be made to the First Baptist Church in Ashdown to honor his memory. You may send the family an online sympathy message to www.nashvillefh.com.