February 7, 1922 – January 1, 2021
Norma Jean Riggs Bear of Opelika, Alabama passed away on January 1, 2021 at the age of 98 at Arbor Springs Retirement Center, where she had resided for the past 8 years.
Born in Kansas City, MO, Mrs. Bear was the daughter of the late Lewellyn LaMar Riggs and the late Warren Arthur Riggs. Mrs. Bear was a grateful direct descendant of two Mayflower pilgrims, Francis Cooke and George Soule, through her father’s ancestry. After the birth of her sister, Maurine Ruth Riggs, the family moved to New Orleans, LA and subsequently back to Kansas City near their families. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous lady in Kansas City, Mrs. Bear earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Foreign Languages and Literature at the then Kansas City University, during which she also worked as a secretary at an aircraft factory during World War II. She was baptized by Reverend Dr. Burris A. Jenkins in the Community Christian Church in 1935 and by 2021 had been a member for 86 years. In later life Mrs. Bear established a scholarship fund for the Church’s high school students going to college because of her belief that an educated person, and therefore the United States, would be stronger.
Mrs. Bear was employed in the U.S. State Department as a translator and interpreter, which sent her to a conference in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There she met her future husband, Robert J. Bear, Commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Facility on St. Thomas. She learned that he had been awarded the Navy Cross for his role as a dive-bomber pilot at the Battle of the Midway and immediately thereafter had served as a pilot in the Battle for Guadalcanal. They were married on July 6, 1946 in St. Thomas and subsequently moved on assignment at Camp LeJeune, NC; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and Albany, GA. In 1961, Lt. Col. Bear retired from the U.S. Marine Corps and took the position of Assistant Treasurer and Comptroller at Auburn University in Auburn, AL.
Mrs. Bear was a devoted wife and a supportive mother. She worked across the children’s activities in the Presbyterian Church, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, basketball, track, and the Auburn High School Marching, Concert, Jazz Bands, and Band Camp. She was very proud to send four children into the world where they subsequently traveled far away to places such as Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Africa, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, and England.
Later in life, Mrs. Bear wrote her autobiography. Her pastor aptly said in the foreword: “It is a testimony to the presence of God in her life journey.” She also supported the Alabama Food Bank, Salvation Army, and St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital.
Mrs. Bear was rarely without a project. She found time to refinish antiques for their home on Terrace Acres Drive in Auburn. She locked her metal tool kit, because the family members would occasionally forget to return a valuable implement! When Lt. Col. Bear had a small farm in Gold Hill to raise cattle, Mrs. Bear started a beehive for fresh honey. She began traveling alone or with family…to Japan, New York, New England, Bermuda, France, and her life’s goal: The Holy Land. Finally, she studied at the William Holland School of lapidary art in Georgia, set up a jeweler’s desk in her home to make jewelry, traveled to the U.S. supplier of stones in New Mexico, visited a fresh-water pearl farm in Tennessee, made necklaces from Chinese jade and pearls, and beaded every day at Arbor Springs to the great delight of the staff at birthday and holiday time. She was also popular for her bag of 300 DUM-DUM suckers for the children visiting Arbor Springs.
Mrs. Bear was preceded in death by her husband, Lt. Col. Robert Judy Bear, and was the mother of Jonathan (Cheryl), Cynthia (the late Donald W. Green), Stephen (Akemi), and William (Barbara); grandmother to Kimber, Blake (Jocelyn), Christie (Tillman), and Britney; and great-grandmother to Natalie, Jenna, Leah, and Landon.
Due to the difficulties in the pandemic for public gatherings and travel, there will not be a memorial service. The Arlington National Cemetery will inter Mrs. Bear with her late husband. In lieu of flowers to the family, a donation to the Alabama Food Bank, the Salvation Army, or St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital would be appreciated.