When Kathy Norton heard that the Braintree Parks and Recreation Department wanted to rebuild Hollis Field, an old playground that had seen better days, she jumped at the opportunity.
She had moved to Braintree in 1996 with her husband, Don, to start a family, and their two oldest children had played at Hollis Field, a few streets over from their home.
In January 2000, Mrs. Norton was among nine parents who met to begin organizing. Over the next four years, with Mrs. Norton as its clerk, the Friends of Hollis Field Playground raised thousands of dollars for the new playground by holding spaghetti dinners, selling cotton candy at fireworks displays, applying for grants, and seeking donations. In 2004, the playground was completed.
Mrs. Norton, who was an advertising operations manager for the Globe, died of cancer of the appendix Feb. 16 in her Braintree home. She was 49.
A few months after the playground was completed, Mrs. Norton’s third child, Owen, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a group of inherited diseases that damage muscles, and Mrs. Norton and her husband learned that their son would use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
“A lot of our focus, after that diagnosis, was toward doing what we can, certainly for caring for Owen, but also to making sure that his upbringing was as normal as it could be,” Don said.
The playground committee then started a second phase of development at Hollis Field to add wheelchair-accessible equipment, so Owen and others who use adaptive devices could play alongside friends.
Mrs. Norton again helped the committee raise money, and in 2006, the committee installed a handicapped-accessible boatlike apparatus that can be rocked, which lets everyone on board feel the same thing at the same time, whether they sit on a bench or in a wheelchair.
“Goin’ for Owen” was inscribed on the equipment.
Katherine Marie Hudson was born in 1963 in St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester. Her mother, Dorothy (Feeley) Hudson of Milton, recalled that when Mrs. Norton was a little girl, she would be waiting at the top of the stairs every day, fully dressed in her school uniform by 6 a.m.
Mrs. Norton’s father, James Hudson, worked nights as an analyst at AT&T, and before going to sleep each morning, he brought her from the family’s Dorchester home to school.
Mrs. Norton attended Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School and Boston Business School, from which she graduated first in her class in 1984, her mother said.
After Mrs. Norton graduated, her mother suggested that she apply for a job at the Globe, which was within walking distance from the family’s home.
What started as a clerical job turned into a career.
In 1988, Rich Masotta, now vice president of operations, hired her as a sales coordinator in advertising and operations.
Mrs. Norton worked with Masotta over the years and was working on databases for him even while she was ill, he said.
“She had a combination of outstanding work ethic, combined with intellectual curiosity,” Masotta said.
Mrs. Norton had a knack for learning quickly, he said, and for figuring out how to turn calls about advertising rates into a solicitation and ultimately a sale. Masotta promoted her to an assistant manager position after a couple of years, putting her in charge of 132 people and managing a phone system in the classified and operations department.
While working at the Globe, she met Don Norton, who is a design manager at the Globe.
Their first date was on April 2, 1990. Both deeply religious, they often went on lunch dates to St. Christopher’s Church in Dorchester, a short walk from the Globe’s offices, to attend midday Mass. They would stop for a slice of pizza afterward before returning to work.
Because Mrs. Norton was so well respected at the newspaper, her husband said, he believed she might have risen quickly at the Globe if they had not married, which turned her focus to family.
He said he used to “kid around with her that her only mistake at the Globe was marrying me.”
“Her calling, her highest purpose, was to be a mother and to raise her family in a home filled with love and faith,” her husband said in a eulogy at her funeral Mass.
They had married on May 18, 1996, in St. Margaret’s Church in Dorchester. Their first daughter, Kerrin, was born in 1997, and Caitlin was born the following year. Another son, Ryan, was born after Owen.
While raising her four children and working, Mrs. Norton returned to school, attending night classes at Suffolk University.
Mrs. Norton rarely seemed to run out of energy, friends and family said, and was attentive to the smallest details. During the Hollis Field fund-raisers, she was always sure to have clearly marked bins for recycling at every event.
“It was very important to her,” said Patricia Murrin, a member of the Hollis Field committee.
Murrin said the committee has now launched a third initiative: adding recycling bins to Hollis Field in Mrs. Norton’s honor.
In addition to her husband, four children, and mother, Mrs. Norton leaves her brother, Jim Hudson of Dorchester, and her sister, Patricia Hudson of Milton.
After Mrs. Norton was diagnosed with cancer in January 2011, her husband said, the family was grateful for the support offered by her friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
During a wake in Dorchester, Mrs. Norton’s mother said, more than 1,000 people attended, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley. The crowd was so large, she recalled, that the funeral home opened up the basement to accommodate the mourners.
“She really touched everyone,” Mrs. Norton’s mother said. “I never realized she knew so many people. She never would tell you.”