Renee Norris relaxes recently at Norris Furniture in Naples. / Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
» Age: 50
» Birthplace/current residence: Fort Myers
» Education: 1982 graduate, Fort Myers High School
» Career: Worked at The Landings community in south Fort Myers; stay-at-home mother; most recently has worked with her husband, Larry, at Norris Home Furnishings
» Family: Husband, Larry; two adult children, Chad and Michelle; two grandchildren and daughter Emily, 20, attending Wake Forest University
» Personal interest: Boating, vacationing at mountain home in North Carolina
When Renee Norris was just 9 years old, her maternal grandmother succumbed to a massive heart attack while taking care of Renee alone in her home.
“It was pretty darn well terrifying,” Renee recalls.
That experience has always left a haunting impression on her, and heart problems have plagued others in the family.
“I definitely think you need to be aware of genetics” in the role of cardiovascular disease and heart health, she says.
Luckily, Renee hasn’t experienced any scares, or joined the scores of women — an estimated 43 million — in the United States who are affected by cardiovascular disease.
February is National Heart Month, an annual time for women to pause and consider that heart disease remains the No. 1 killer of women, hence its notorious shorthand as “the silent killer.” In fact, heart disease claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined, and it’s especially problematic for women because heart attack symptoms often go unnoticed.
These are some of the startling facts that Renee and her husband, Larry — owners of Norris Home Furnishings in Naples and Fort Myers — discovered after being inspired by their neighbor to get involved with the local American Heart Association.
“I didn’t know the statistics about heart health until I got involved in this,” Renee says humbly.
Their Fort Myers neighbor of 14 years, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Robert D. Pascotto, is a Heart Association advocate who performed the area’s first open-heart surgery and goes on medical mission trips to the Dominican Republic. Renee finds his commitment personally inspiring.
“His career was attempting saving people from heart disease. Now in retirement, he’s trying to prevent heart disease,” says Renee, 50.
For the 2012 Heart Ball, their company donated a $25,000 room makeover in the silent auction. Last year, Norris Home Furnishings agreed to be the three-year sponsors of the Dr. Pascotto Golden Heart Award. It was established in 2008 to recognize medical professionals who’ve made lifelong contributions to improving heart health in Southwest Florida.
As part of the award, the Norrises hosted a private party for donors prior to the 2013 Heart Ball in their Naples showroom, during which the honoree is announced.
“They work hard to promote the Heart Association. They are very generous of their time and financial contributions, and I respect that very much,” says Dr. Michael Metke, last year’s Golden Heart recipient.
Renee is ratcheting up her involvement a little higher this year by serving on the executive leadership committee for fundraising. The 2013 gala raised $500,000, and the goal of the 2014 Heart Ball, which takes place April 5 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, is $625,000.
“It was pretty easy to get excited about the cause,” says Renee. “When you start looking around, you realize you know a lot of people that have been touched by it.”
A second-generation Floridian who grew up in Fort Myers, she takes a no-nonsense albeit passionate approach to her pursuits. Out of high school, while working at the still-new The Landings community, she met Larry and they married 21 years ago. Shortly after the birth of their daughter, Emily, Renee was diagnosed and treated for thyroid cancer, another disease that has stalked family and friends.
The experience punctuated more poignantly the importance of life and family for Renee, who became a stay-at-home mother entrenched in Girl Scouts, school field trips and the like. “Everyone knew who Emily’s mom was,” she says.
Emily followed in her mother’s alumna footsteps, graduating from Fort Myers High School, and is now considering going into the medical field.
But Renee still worked with her husband, and they decided to sell Norris Furniture and Interiors about five years ago to retire. It wasn’t a leisurely retirement. They designed a subdivision and three North Carolina mountain homes, among other projects.
When the new owners, Boyle’s, decided to close it, the Norrises stepped in to buy it back, and several past employees came out of the woodwork to express their interest in rejoining the Norrises.
“We’re surrounded by great people every day,” she says. “We couldn’t have sustained growth without the people. It’s been a labor of love.”
In addition to the heart advocacy, Renee and Larry support other causes in creative ways, including Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill Industries, and the Literacy Council of Gulf Coast in Lee County and First Book in Collier. Their company creates stunning Christmas trees for the Tux & Trees Gala in Fort Myers (winning the People’s Choice Award this year) to raise funds for Goodwill. They participated in the Artis—Naples black-tie Fire & Ice gala to raise funds for the Naples Philharmonic League and youth music programs (winning first place).
Last year, Norris Home Furnishings inaugurated “The Writer’s Domain” — surveying book authors with local ties about their writing environs to reinterpret in the showrooms in both Naples and Fort Myers — for literacy. The company partners with Barnes & Noble; the Naples event took place in January and the Fort Myers event took place Feb. 6.
“They got 100 percent behind it,” says Paula Robertson, the public relations consultant who conceived of The Writer’s Domain. “Once they make a decision to head in a certain direction, they’re totally supportive of it.”
Paula says she’s worked with several couple- and family-owned businesses, and the Norrises stand out.
“Renee has a great sense of personal style that comes through in everything she does. They are very close and they make a great team, and are very supportive of staff. I’ve seen a lot of that,” Paula says.
“If someone on staff has a family issue or illness, they are very caring and want to be as supportive as they can be.”
Renee says nothing could be better than being a business partner with her husband and best friend.
“Life takes you where you’re supposed to be. I have strong faith; God takes you where you need to be,” she says. “We feel very blessed in the community and it’s important to give back.”