The Rev. Norman Eddy, a Minister in East Harlem, Dies at 93
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: June 30, 2013
The Rev. Norman Eddy, a Yale-educated minister from Connecticut who settled in a blighted East Harlem neighborhood in 1951 and helped start a pioneering drug treatment program, a tenants’ group, a housing project, a credit union and the myriad self-help organizations that have sustained his work there for over 60 years, died on June 21 in Manhattan. He was 93.
His daughter Martha Eddy confirmed his death.
Mr. Eddy and his wife, Margaret Ruth Eddy, who was known as Peg and was also a minister, moved to the area as co-pastors of the East Harlem Protestant Parish, an assembly of four storefront churches that they had helped establish while attending Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
They raised their three children in a walk-up at 330 East 100th Street, staying put as narcotics trafficking, arson and gang violence swept the area. An article in The New York Times Magazine in 1962 called their street, between First and Second Avenues, the city’s “worst block.” When they moved, in 1970, to accommodate a housing renewal project initiated by one of Mr. Eddy’s neighborhood groups, they settled in a brownstone on East 105th Street. The Rev. Ruth Eddy died in 1990.
Mr. Eddy, a tall, soft-spoken, prematurely white-haired man who insisted on being called Norm, became a fixture in the area during its worst decades, a white man who plied the streets un-self-consciously in a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood, stopping to talk to addicts and churchgoers alike, inviting people to meetings on the parish calendar, helping tenants in disputes with landlords, sometimes mediating gang rivalries.
An early advocate of narcotics treatment at a time when addiction was essentially a crime in itself, he helped establish one of the city’s first counseling centers for addicts, a storefront walk-in on 100th Street that offered mental health services, job placement and application forms for the few drug detoxification and rehabilitation programs that existed.
But his ultimate goal was never to be East Harlem’s rescuer, Mr. Eddy told interviewers in later years; rather, it was to help East Harlem rescue itself. In his preferred role as “spiritual coordinator,” he helped organize citizens’ committees:
■ The East Harlem Credit Union Committee, which in 1956 persuaded the National Credit Union Administration to charter a citizens’ credit bank. The bank provided small loans to businesses and individuals in a community eschewed by savings banks and preyed on by loan sharks.
■ The East Harlem Narcotics Committee, whose hundreds of members became the volunteer power behind the counseling center and lobbied for changes in state drug laws.
■ The Metro North Citizens’ Committee, which began pressuring city officials in 1962 to build affordable housing and, when nothing happened, got a $1 million grant from a philanthropic foundation in Chicago to seed a federally subsidized, privately financed project. One of the first deals of its kind, it yielded 200 apartments by the mid-1960s, a block of renovated Section 8 subsidized rental units that anchored a gradual neighborhood revival.
The writer James Baldwin, curious about the pastor’s work, went to meet him in 1959. The encounter was arranged by a mutual friend, Dan Wakefield, who had featured Mr. Eddy in his book “Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem.”
“Baldwin asked why he had come to live in that neighborhood,” Mr. Wakefield wrote in a recent article for the online journal Image. “Norm leaned forward with intense concentration and said it had nothing to do with ‘doing good’ or ‘saving souls,’ ” Mr. Wakefield wrote.
Rather, he told Mr. Baldwin, he wanted to help build a self-sustaining community. “I want to create Plymouth Colony in East Harlem,” Mr. Wakefield quoted him as saying.
Norman Cooley Eddy was born in New Britain, Conn., on Feb. 9, 1920, to Stanley and Alice Hart Eddy, who were both from prosperous New England families. His father was a stockbroker. His mother’s family owned a summer retreat on Martha’s Vineyard, which later became the Eddys’.
After graduating from Yale in 1942, Mr. Eddy joined the volunteer ambulance corps of the American Field Service. He experienced what he described as a spiritual awakening in 1943 while serving in Syria, leading him to enroll in Union Theological Seminary after the war. In 1951, he was ordained a minister in the Congregational Church.
Besides his daughter Martha, he is survived by another daughter, Rebecca Eddy Feuerstein, and a son, Tim.
“It didn’t occur to us that there was anything unusual about our living where there were muggings, fires, gunshots, that sort of thing,” Martha Eddy said in an interview on Friday. “We had so many friends in the neighborhood. We felt protected” — though certain adjustments were required.
“We spent August at Martha’s Vineyard,” she said. “That was always a culture shock.”