Villa Marie Claire

Beating the Odds for a Life of Giving


Norman “David” Atkinson’s parents looked at their young son and saw only his potential, and the joy and love he would share with those lucky enough to know him. They knew he would lead a meaningful life, undeterred by his disability.

David did so much more than just prove them right. He created an independent lifestyle, developed friendships, forged unbreakable bonds with family members, and volunteered so much that he amassed a menu of awards.

All this, despite having cerebral palsy. Just as his parents defied doctors’ multiple recommendations to place him in an institution, David, in turn, defied the odds.

“From the perspective of seven decades later, we can see that our parents’ hopes and dreams for their firstborn son came true,” said Elizabeth Vivenzio, David’s sister.

For more than 42 years, David lived a self-supporting lifestyle, commuting into Manhattan for his post office job. He also helped with the religious education program at St. John the Evangelist Church in Bergenfield by holding open the heavy door for the children and greeting them, preventing a host of injuries and bringing a smile to the faces of countless little ones.

“This was one of the greatest joys of his life,” Elizabeth said. “The church even dedicated a hallway to him.”

David also received a number of awards from the Diocese of Newark and ARC for his self-advocacy and his financial commitment to children.

After a motor neuron disease, similar to ALS, brought him to his final stages of life, David moved into Villa Marie Claire. For nearly two years, he continued to celebrate the gift of life and loved singing, praying and sharing precious moments with his family and friends.

Many Villa Marie Claire volunteers share their special talents with patients. David especially enjoyed when one woman played the harp and another the guitar as they joined with his family members singing church hymns.

“The health care team at the Villa is so kind and compassionate and worked cohesively to make him comfortable,” Elizabeth said. “We are so grateful. The beautiful surroundings gave comfort to David and our family. David will always be known for his true grit, courage and strength of character. He overcame his disability to attain a successful and independent life, and his quiet resolve and determination are his legacy. Thank you to Villa Marie Claire for keeping his legacy alive during his journey.”