STORY BY JAN OSBORN. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NORMA AND BILL MATTHEWS.
The United Nations Association Dallas Chapter (DUNA) honored Rev. Bill and Norma Matthews for their ongoing commitment, helping advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals agenda by promoting peace and well-being. Norma, 89, and Bill, 88, residents at Juliette Fowler Communities, were honored on October 23 with the distinguished Eleanor Roosevelt Lifetime Achievement Award for their work with the Dallas Chapter. Founded on the promise to advance peace and prosperity for people and the planet, United Nations Day Global Leaderships Awards honor individuals and organizations from multiple industries who are advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda by promoting peace and well-being around the world. Nominations are submitted for the annual awards from across the North Texas area.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations are: no poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reducing inequality; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice, and strong institutions; and partnership for the goals.
Since the 1980s, the couple has been actively involved with the United Nations Dallas Chapter, both serving as past presidents of the organization, attending national conferences, and striving to share the importance of the UN and its work with students in the Dallas area. In 2014, they began work on a book published in 2017, titled Hope Over Fear: Bridges Toward a Better World, which documents the history of the Dallas Chapter of the United Nations. For much of the time since the Dallas Chapter was founded in 1953, there was no permanent home for boxes of records – approximately ten boxes of photographs, meeting minutes, and materials collected and saved over the years. The couple organized the materials and conducted interviews to put the book together with a heavy focus on the many people involved including Raymond Nasher, Vivian Castleberry, and former Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss. The couple obtained grant money and ensured a copy was provided to each school library in Dallas County.
“Bill and I have so much respect and admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt, which makes this award very special to both of us,” said Norma. “Eleanor Roosevelt served in the leading role as chairperson of the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN in 1948. She along with Judge Sarah T. Hughes started the Dallas Chapter.”
“The 30 points in the Declaration of Human Rights articulate the equality of humanity, setting the standards all people should live by,” added Bill. “Still an important function of the UN, this is a document that details what we should all strive toward. It is a great honor to receive this award named for Eleanor Roosevelt.”
The couple, married 67 years, first met in high school in Marfa, Texas, in Bill Matthews’ mother’s English class, during their senior year. Norma had just moved to Marfa from New Jersey with her family. After graduation, Norma worked for a year for the Department of Agriculture. A Baptist minister loaned her money to attend Baylor University, where she studied English and education and became an ESL teacher. Bill attended Texas Western College (now U.T.E.P.), Sul Ross College, and graduated from Texas Christian University with a bachelor’s degree in radio/speech and a minor in music.
The couple married in 1954. Bill attended Brite Divinity School at TCU serving in Methodist churches in Fort Worth, Texas; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Dallas and Sherman, Texas, while becoming an ordained deacon. He then earned a Bachelor of Divinity at Perkins School of Theology at SMU and became an ordained Elder in Full Connection, North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
In 1964 both Bill and Norma were commissioned as Methodist Missionaries and moved to the Philippines with their four children for four years. While Bill worked in radio as well as in mass media communication for the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Norma taught deaconesses at Harris Memorial College to provide leadership in churches.
Following their time in the Philippines, Norma earned her master’s degree in ESL, and Bill earned his master’s degree in communication from The University of Texas in Austin. The family then moved to Fiji in the South Pacific, where Bill consulted in religion communication in 20 Pacific Island countries. The couple completed their missionary work after ten years and returned to the Dallas area.
Bill served as associate pastor at University Park United Methodist Church in Dallas and as vice president at the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio, where he was responsible for public relations and development. He later worked in various communications roles at Perkins School of Theology, the North Texas Conference, and Highland Park UMC. Norma worked as a bilingual teacher in DISD.
In addition to their service with the DUNA, during their retirement years, they have worked with the Greater Dallas Community of Churches, Russian Leadership program of the U.S. Library of Congress, United Nations Association, Dallas Peace Center, Interfaith Council of the Thanksgiving Square Foundation, Park Cities Rotary Club and more. Together the couple was honored for their work with the Foundation for Pluralism in 2007. They received the 2016 Arnold Goodman Lifetime Achievement Award from the national UNA-USA at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, DC; the 2017 Peace Patron Award from Peacemakers, Inc.; and both have received individual Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Dallas Peace Center. Additionally, Norma has been honored twice as DISD Teacher of the Year as well as by the Women’s Federation for World Peace in Texas. Bill was inducted into the 1999 Class of the United Methodists Communicators Hall of Fame; received the Norvell Slater Lifetime Communicator Award by the Dallas Chapter Religion Communicators Council; DFW Sikh Community Honors; and the Col. Robert Q. Smith Club Service Award by the Rotary Club of the Park Cities.
At Juliette Fowler Communities, the couple enjoys leading worship music for community worship and hymn singing, and they participate in the Resident Council and other committees. They have four daughters, seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
“We could not be prouder of Norma and Bill Matthews whose leadership over the years has positively impacted so many lives around the world,” said Nicole Gann, president and CEO, Juliette Fowler Communities. “What a blessing they are to all who know them, including the residents and teammates at Juliette Fowler Communities! On behalf of our team and residents, we offer our heartiest congratulations for this distinguished honor to such a deserving and beloved couple.”