Norma J. Ross, a Trustee of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, died Friday morning, April 23, in Dayton, Ohio, following a valiant fight against breast cancer. She was 75 years old.
Ross was President and CEO of Bob Ross Buick GMC and Ross Motorcars (affectionately known as "The Store") in Centerville, Ohio, which has included franchises in Buick, GMC, Hummer, and Mercedes-Benz automotive products. In 2001, she was recognized as the only African American woman owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in the world and the only African American woman to hold Buick and GMC Truck franchises in Ohio. Following the death of her husband, Robert, in 1997 she continued at the helm and led “The Store” to a number of local, regional, and national awards for sales volume. In 1998, Black Enterprise Magazine recognized her as one of the top five African American women entrepreneurs in the country. Two years later, she was named one of four women recipients of the governor of Ohio’s Excellence Award. Her two children, daughter Jenell and son Robert Jr., became vice presidents in the business.
In 2002, at the 214th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which met in Columbus Ohio, Ross was one of three Presbyterian businesswomen honored with a Women of Faith Award. In accepting the award, The Presbyterian News Service reported that Ross credited faith in God, daily prayer, and hard work as the essential elements in "the only way to grow a business." The key to business success, she continued, is trust: "At work as well as in the church, people working together must trust each other. My challenge is to impress upon my staff that this is so."
Norma Ross was also an educator. After graduation from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind., in 1956, she was a classroom teacher and curriculum consultant in Dayton and in Richmond schools while her husband built their automotive business. Ross was a Project Director of the S.A.T. Academy of the Jack & Jill of America Foundation—receiving numerous regional and national awards. The academy was located on the campus of Central State University and later moved to the Dayton Career Academy. It served a five chapter area in Ohio that included Dayton, Cincinnati, Springfield, Wilberforce and Xenia. She was a Trustee of Central State University and a board member of the African American Advisory Council for Earlham College, which recognized her with a Distinguished Service Award in 2001.
In 2000, Ross joined Louisville Seminary’s Board as the first African American women to serve as a Trustee, at the recommendation of Honorary Life Trustee Herbert Carroll who is a member of her congregation in Dayton. With a career in education and the acumen of a seasoned professional business woman, Ross was deeply invested in the Seminary’s commitment to expand diversity within the faculty, administration, and student body. During her tenure on the Board, she was able to see Louisville Seminary increase the diversity of its student body from 9% persons of color to 30%; expand the multicultural representation on the faculty by one-fourth; and call the first African American administrator—a woman—to serve in the Office of Admissions.
As a member and Trustee of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Dayton, she helped build strong bonds between Louisville Seminary and her congregation. One of her first actions as a Seminary Trustee was to lead Trinity in funding a room in the Seminary’s Laws Lodge Conference Center in honor of her pastor, Rev. Dr. James I. Davis, who served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation as pastor for 25 years, until his death in 2008. Davis helped Louisville Seminary educate men and women for pastoral ministry and service by serving on the LPTS Board of Trustees from 1977 to 1983.
On numerous occasions Norma Ross invited Seminary representatives to speak at her church, including President Dean K. Thompson, who preached there for the second time on Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010. During his visit, she hosted a special luncheon for President Thompson and a prospective student, whom she introduced to Lewis Brogdon, Associate Director of Recruiting and Admissions and Director of the Black Church Studies Program, and Dale Melton, Vice President for Seminary Relations, along with Dr. Thompson. On that Sunday, she sang in the choir.
In an Earlham College magazine article, Ross credits her parents, Evelyn and Merle Henderson, and her "firebrand" uncles Carl Henderson and Bobby Smith, for influencing her strong image based upon human justice and equality. "She does not accept discrimination passively,” the article reported, which also stated that her personal motto was, “Instead of calling something a ‘problem,’ call it a ‘concern.’ It only becomes a problem when nothing is done about it.”
Visitation with the family of Norma Ross has been arranged with House of Wheat Funeral Home in Dayton, beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 29. The funeral will take place at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, at 1:00 p.m. that day, and President Dean K. Thompson will participate in the funeral.