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Late El Camino Hospital benefactor receives outpouring of love and respect

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Photo A portrait of Mrs. Melchor, background, faces the audience at last week’s memorial service, emphasizing her presence.

Name one person who knew Norma Melchor and didn’t hold her in the highest regard.

You won’t find one.

Thursday’s memorial service proved that a great many people loved and admired Mrs. Melchor, who died Feb. 17 at 87. Family and friends filled the Los Altos United Methodist Church sanctuary, offering reverential tributes to this seminal figure in the formation of El Camino Hospital.

Mrs. Melchor, wife of early tech entrepreneur Jack Melchor, was active at El Camino even before the hospital’s official opening in 1961. The former nurse first became involved in 1957 when she joined the hospital auxiliary.

She was a hospital district board member for 16 years (1974-1990). With Jack, she was instrumental in raising millions of dollars in donations through the El Camino Hospital Foundation.


Family memories

Her impact on El Camino was evident in the huge contingent of hospital leaders, past and present, on hand for the service. But the service emphasized the outpouring of love and appreciation from the Melchor family, particularly Jack and Norma’s grandchildren.

“They are truly an inseparable unit,” said grandson John Froman, who went on to acknowledge both his grandmother and grandfather. “Collectively, they are my heroes. By far, they were the smartest people I’ve ever known. They also had big hearts.”

Froman added that Mrs. Melchor’s presence is still alive, inside Jack and “inside all of you here.”

Granddaughter Bonnie Froman offered two sides of Mrs. Melchor. On one hand, she was “so elegant and classy,” and, a voracious reader, she had pored through all the classics. On the other hand, she also pored through People magazines, held Oscar parties and had a life-size cutout of 49ers football hero Joe Montana.

Speakers offered striking images of Mrs. Melchor: a knack for numbers and financing; someone who loved being around people, who loved hearing and dishing out the latest gossip; someone who was kind but also direct; someone who virtually always carried a positive outlook on life.

“I remember how she always had a smile on her face,” Bonnie said.


The heart of the hospital

Mrs. Melchor’s unrelenting enthusiasm for El Camino Hospital was a constant in her life. She did what was needed to help at the hospital. As part of the El Camino Hospital Auxiliary, she set up the reception and information desk and conducted tours of the hospital when its doors opened in 1961. She led the organization, serving as chairwoman of training in 1961, vice president and chairwoman of services in 1962 and president in 1963. She also co-led a citizens’ committee to promote a second bond issue to build the sixth-floor tower.

Mrs. Melchor was a firm believer in providing health care for all, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Never have (El Camino officials) lost the fact that heath care should be for every individual,” she once said.


A fun marriage

Named the 2007 Los Altans of the Year by the Town Crier, the Melchors talked of their strong bond, reinforced by positive energy, teamwork and, most of all, humor.

“We don’t always have a good time – we don’t always agree,” Jack said last year on the occasion of the couple’s 65th anniversary. “What that means is … Norma doesn’t always do what I say.”

Such playful banter was key to their special relationship.

It started in South Bend, Ind., where 17-year-old Navy officer-in-training Jack stopped in at a tea dance at the USO. Norma Bair, trained as a nurse at Indiana University, was the older woman.

“I was looking for someone who was intelligent and wasn’t a pushover,” she said.

And with a 16-month deployment to Japan imminent at the height of World War II, Jack and Norma reunited and got married on Feb. 9, 1946.

Mrs. Melchor signed for Jack’s father on the marriage certificate because young Jack wasn’t legal.

To celebrate anniversary No. 65, the Melchors traveled to England, as they did for their 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries to gather with family. They had just celebrated their 66th anniversary this month.

Interviewed last year, the couple agreed that no relationship survives without discussion, friendship and humor.

“Why stay married if you’re not having fun?” Mrs. Melchor asked.

Mrs. Melchor is survived by her husband, Jack; her children, Greg, Kay and Jeff; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her daughter, Karen Froman.

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