The Hocke Net
June 3, 2013
On Saturday, I attended the christening of the U.S. Coast Guard’s
latest Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC), Margaret Norvell, held on the Mississippi riverfront in New
at Bollinger Shipyards Inc. in
Lockport, La., the 154'x25'5"x9'6" FRCs can reach speeds of 28 knots,
survive through Sea State 6, and feature active fin stabilization. (The patrol
boats were the subject of a WorkBoatfeature article in the February 2013 issue.) The Coast Guard plans to acquire up to 58
of the new cutters.
FRCs are named for past enlisted heroes of the USCG. Which brings me to
Margaret “Madge” Norvell. She served for 41 years with the U.S. Lighthouse
Service, which merged with the Coast Guard in 1939. Norvell took over as keeper
of the Head of Passes Light (lighthouse) at the mouth of the Mississippi River
in 1891 after her husband accidently drowned while serving as the original keeper.
list of accomplishments in that dangerous position is too long to list in
this space, but there is one that deserves special mention.
1924, Norvell transferred to the New Canal Light on Lake Pontchartrain in New
Orleans. Two years later, a Navy airplane went down in the lake during a
storm. Norvell rowed for two hours in the tempest, found the pilot alive, got
him into the boat, and rowed them both back to the safety of the lighthouse.
mention this incident because I know Lake Pontchartrain well. I’ve even been on
the lake in a rowboat in my younger days, but not during a storm. That body of
water is big (over 600 sq. miles), shallow (16' depth) and mean when brought to
she did is nothing short of extraordinary. In fact, during the ceremony and the
party that followed, I heard the word “extraordinary” used to describe her and
her exploits numerous times — deservedly so.
about being a woman in a position usually reserved for men, she said, “There
isn’t anything unusual in a woman keeping a light in her window to guide men
folks home. I just happen to keep a bigger light than most women because I have
got to see that so many men get safely home.”
Norvell kept that light going until 1932 when she retired at the age of 68. She
died two years later.