Bill and Gayle Norton became sweethearts at age 12. Their first date was attending a Sunday night service at Julia A. Porter United Methodist Church. If the church doors were open, Gayle and her family were there. A love for God, family, church and the community has been a common thread in their marriage.
He recalls how God surrounded them with Christian friends in the early years before they were saved. On April 14, 1972, they accepted Christ at 1:30 a.m. following a revival service at Canaan Baptist Church.
Natives of Porterdale and members of Julia A. Porter UMC, Bill and Gayle have spent a lifetime giving sacrificially to others. They recognized the need to organize the Alms of Love, a ministry within the church that helps people going through hardships.
Bill often says, "If you want to be blessed, you have to be a blessing to someone else."
Known as "prayer warriors," the couple organized a Shepherd’s Ministry in 1993 with emphasis on compiling a weekly prayer and praise list. Twelve group leaders with approximately 15 families each serve as a chain for prayer requests and praise reports. In the event of a death, the teams provide a meal for the family and support them with love and prayer.
Because Julia A. Porter is known in Newton County as a loving and praying church, people from the community often call in their requests for prayer. Currently, 61 cancer patients ranging from 3 years to senior adults are prayed for on a daily basis.
Names of 26 service men and women, several college students, our president and military leaders, expectant mothers, outreach ministries and those in nursing home and shut-ins are remembered daily by the pastor and congregation.
In 1984, Gayle agreed to fill in as worship leader and has volunteered her time as the choir director since 1997. In addition, she has served as Sunday school superintendent. Bill has taught the adult Sunday school class for more than 30 years and continues to serve as chairman of the board of trustees. In prior years, they directed the youth.
A strong supporter of their children’s schools and activities, they were elected as presidents of the PTO at Porterdale Elementary, Cousins Middle School and Clements Middle School. Bill served on the Porterdale City Council for 20 years and the Newton County Board of Education for one term and served on the board of directors for the Newton County Chamber of Commerce. Together, they served as chairs of the United Fund.
Bill and Gayle went into business with Doug Doster in 1975 and operated the Red and White Grocery in Madison, the Town Square Red and White in Covington and developed the Turner Lake Business Park.
Later, the couple opened a paint store and worked in house construction developing several subdivisions. In 1995, they opened the Covington Rental Center at 7101 Turner Lake Circle.
Bill and Gayle raised their two children, Ryan and Magan, with strong ties to the Julia A. Porter UMC. They have two grandchildren and namesakes, Abby and Will Norton. Ryan is the media director and he and his wife Amanda, lead the youth. Magan, an R.N. at Newton Medical Center, is engaged to marry Justin Kennedy.
The community responded with love and support when Bill suffered a heart attack in 1995. In September, he had a malignant tumor removed from his bladder. Finishing his last preventive treatment this week, he spoke of the importance of having Christian friends and family who believe in the power of prayer.
"People that don’t have that, don’t know what they are missing," he said remembering the peace he felt during those difficult times.
Bill offers good advice that has served him and his family over the years.
"Stay in church together, begin and end your day praying together," he said smiling across the room at his wife. "Surround yourself with loving Christian friends. Read the word. Put God first and family second."