Life is just a giant football field to Norman Neverson. When it comes to attacking community problems, the former All-American linebacker from George Washington University believes there's nothing too large to tackle and no defeat that can't be turned into victory.
"One thing I learned from football," said the burly, 6-feet-2 athlete, "is that I can run through that wall if I have to. I learned that whenever there's a challenge, we must always rise to meet that challenge. I'm going to always keep on going until I finally win," he said. "There's no quitting. There's no giving up."
Sports enthusiasts would call Neverson "hungry" and hundreds of District residents seem glad that he is. For whether in his capacity as director of business development for the Xerox Corporation or as an advisory neighborhood commission official in the Petworth-Brightwood area (Ward 4), Norman Neverson has thrown himself into one local problem after another.
It was a smiling, fast-talking Neverson who came to the aid of the staff at the Northwest Health Center on Upshur Street after they had failed to get maintenance problems corrected in the clinic.
It was Neverson who helped lead city residents on a march to the District building to protest what they said were extraordinarily high water bills and the water department's procedures for collecting payments.
Neverson persuaded local businessmen to sponsor neighborhood kids on cultural bus outings. He found summer jobs for neighborhood youths and he claims to have had more than 190 abandoned automobiles removed from city streets since January, when he became an ANC official.
For all his community politicking, one would expect the amiable businessman to have run for public office by now. He's tried.
In 1974, he ran for City Councilman, in Ward 4, along with 16 other candidates. He came in third in the Democratic primary, behind Helen Mitchell and Arrington Dixon.
A few years earlier he had been defeated as a candidate for the District school board. In another race controversy over possible ballot stuffing bumped him and seven other people from the Republican delegation slated to attend the 1972 GOP convention.
Still, friends claim Neverson has never really stopped running. He still would like to be a City Councilman, they say. While Neverson won't admit that, he does say, "I would like to think I could do more, for more people, as a Council member as opposed to being in ANC."
When Neverson is asked what makes him run, he talks about moral obligations. Neverson recalls that when he won his athletic scholarship to GWU in 1963 - the first black athlete to do so - he felt morally obligated to be the best athlete and student possible in order to repay the people who had helped him get there.
Later, graduating with degrees in public administration and international affairs, he decided to teach rather than play professional football. Again, he says, moral obligation prompted the decision.
"All of my models were teachers," he explained. "They (not football) had motivated me to go to college. No one in the Neverson family had ever dared think about going to college. No one I ever knew had gone to college. But it was a dream I dared to dream because of my teachers."
He taught history, economics and sociology for four years at Calvin Coolidge High School before moving into tbe business world. Before going to Xerox in 1972, he traveled around the country as part of a consulting firm team interviewing minority contractors to work on the Metro subway system.
Neverson, who has a reputation for being straight forward, apparently is equaly decisive about what he wants in his private life.
When he met the woman who became his wife, the former Angela Peterson of Richmond, Va., he said he told her: "I've gotten to the point now in which I've got to find me a wife and you're it." They married last April.
"I think I saw her maybe 10 times before we got married," he laughed.
Angela Neverson also recalls the courtship with amusement.
"He was visiting my school and I was walking by with my kindergarten class going to the cafeteria," she said. "He asked my principal who I was and if I I was married."
Later that afternoon, she said, Neverson saw her leaving the school and introduced himself. "I wasn't too impressed with him.
"He said, 'Right now I don't have the time to talk to you the way I want to, but I'll call you in a few months from now. No later than next year.' I said to myself who does he think he is?" That was in November, 1974. When Neverson called in February of 1975 she didn't refuse the call. A month later she saw him at a meeting at Virginia Commonwealth University.
"I didn't want him to know I knew who he was so I said, 'You're Norman something .'"
Neverson laughed, recalling the conversation.
"'Why, Angela Peterson, how you doing girl? Are you married yet,' I asked. She said, 'no.' 'Are you looking for a husband,' I asked? She said, 'I don't know.' I said, 'How old are you?' '23.' I said, 'Look, if you're that old and don't have a husband you're looking for one, okay. So do me a favor, let's talk about it sometime soon.'"
In April, he called to tell her he would propose in June.
"So be ready."
In June he called to tell her he was buying the ring. They were engaged in July of 1975.
Part of their brief honeymoon, recalled Angela Neverson, was spent getting petitions signed for Neverson to run for ANC commissioner.
Mrs. Neverson said she's able to adjust to her husband's active lifestyle because her father is also very active in community affairs.
"My father was quite the same kind of person as Norman, so this is a lifestyle I've had all my life," she observed.
Mrs. Neverson said she has no political ambitions of her own but she will do all she can to help her husband achieve his. Her own interests, she said, are in teaching. She's presently teaching a first grade class at Meyer Elementary School.
If Norman Neverson's life revolves around helping other people, he says, it is because of his own deprived childhood.
In the 1940s, Neverson and his four brothers and sisters were pushed out of Georgetown along with thousands of other black families, he said. His father was an alcoholic and his parents were divorced when he was a child. His mother, a domestic worker most of her life, died when he was young. So his father's siste and her husband took him in.
"I was guided by my uncle," he said. "When I was in high school I could hardly write a complete sentence. I had no tools. But my uncle, Thaddeus Dickson, would bring me home every evening after school, give me an article out of the newspaper and ask me to write about it in my own words. This I did every week, month after month. It was tremendous drudgery."
His concern for the less fortunate, he says, comes from his own memories of poverty. He recalls repeating third grade because he didn't have clothes, and never having lunch money or a Christmas present until he was 12.
These days, on Christmas, instead of buying presents he gives blood to the Red Cross. On a business trip to Connecticut he and another Xerox worker began a Boy Scout troop and got Xerox to buy the uniforms.
"I think he's doing this to help the people," said Marie Jordan, a staff worker at the Northwest Health Center. "I've talked to several people (about him) and they feel the same way."
James Powell, director of X-ray services at the clinic agreed. "I think he's putting his heart and soul into what he's doing," said Powell.
"I've known him for a few months and I've become very impressed with his conscientiousness and his obvious concern for the community," said Perry Thompson, a Northeast resident who has worked with Neverson on water issues.
Stuart Greenberg, a buddy from Neverson's GWU and teaching days, remembers how Neverson helped him get his teaching job and remained a loyal friend.
"I think Norman is very good with people," said Greenberg. "People are attracted to him and he's attracted to people. He's going to help people in many ways but he's wise enough to know it's going to help him too. He's a highly political animal, but I man that in a positive sense."
Neverson admits he can't say 'no' to people, nor can he give up on their issues when he doesn't have an answer. "Sometimes I do ask myself why," he said of his hectic schedule, "but if I didn't do this I'd be drinking liquor. Pressure, I think, brings out the best in me. It keeps me straight. It keeps me mentally alert."
Still not everyone is pleased with Neverson's alertness or his activity. He said many of his fellow ANC commissioners have criticized him for stepping into issues outside of his area. Others feel he's been too demonstrative in his activities.
"I've been concerned about him," said one ANC member. "He deals primarily in mass hysteria for his own political gain."
Neverson accepts the criticism with a smile and some more homespun philosophy.
"As long as you're complacent you're safe. But once you try to do something you're subject to attacks," he said.