It was love at first sight. Norman Easy and Nixtia Arits were standing in front of the Mona Lisa, the famed portrait by Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, at the Louvre Museum in Paris when they met 15 years ago. Dec. 29 would have been the Freeport couple’s 11th wedding anniversary, but they never got the chance to celebrate it.
On Dec. 8, on a Chinese Eastern Airlines flight to Shanghai, Norman, 57, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, died, reportedly of natural causes. According to Nixtia, 48, Chinese officials informed the family that Norman had died sometime between three hours and 30 minutes before the flight landed. No further details of his death have been released, and Nixtia said she was waiting for an American medical examiner’s report to fill in missing information.
Norman was the former deputy commander of the 369th Sustainment Brigade, a successor unit to World War I’s “Harlem Hellfighters.” He was originally from the Bronx, and a big New York Jets fan. He served in the Army for 28 years, including two tours in Iraq, in 2004 and 2009. He retired from the military in 2010. The Easys moved to Freeport in 2006.
Norman had four children: three from a previous marriage — Marcus, 28, Xavier, 22, and Caitlin, 20 — and one with Nixtia, a son, 13, named Jayden.
Easy, who worked for Siemens Healthineers USA, was traveling to Shanghai on a business trip, according to Nixtia. When he didn’t return her calls or call her to let her know that he had landed and checked into his hotel, she grew concerned.
“It wasn’t like him not to call,” Nixtia said. “I told my son [Marcus], ‘Daddy hasn’t called.’”
She made several calls to Norman’s cell phone, but they went to voicemail. She also contacted the hotel where he was scheduled to stay, as well as his employer. Nixtia said she finally found out what had happened to him three days after his flight.
After his death, his family got into a dispute with Chinese authorities about when his body could be sent home. The family wanted him returned immediately, but Chinese officials delayed that request. His remains were finally returned on Dec. 30, 22 days after he died. Chinese authorities, Nixtia said, have given the family confusing and conflicting accounts about what happened to her husband. Before his body could be sent back to the U.S., she said, the family had to sign waivers agreeing that Chinese officials’ reports would not be challenged.
“I have so many questions,” Nixtia said, tearing up, “but no answers.”
Norman’s sudden death made the holiday season a difficult and trying time for his family. He would have turned 58 on Christmas Eve. Local leaders, including Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy, Lynbrook Deputy Mayor Hilary Becker and Freeport Chamber of Commerce President Ivan Sayles, brought the Easy family a Christmas tree, gifts for the children and a dinner for friends and family members. Former Jets Freeman McNeil, of Huntington, and Wesley Walker, of Dix Hills, also visited the family.
“The mayor, along with everyone else coming together to bring us holiday cheer, meant a lot to us during our tough time,” Nixtia said, “especially for our youngest son.”
She described her late husband as a giving man who lived a life of honor and integrity. “He was very caring and compassionate,” Nixtia said. “Everyone who met Norman for the first time was taken by him. He made a big impact in everyone’s lives.”
Family friend Brenda Roldan, of Phoenix City, Ala., described Easy as a family man who was dedicated to his work, in and out of the military. “If he’s not here with us, it’s because he’s needed in heaven,” Roldan said.
The Easy children were exceptionally close to their father, Nixtia said. Marcus, she noted, always consulted with him before making big decisions, while Caitlin shared many of her college experiences with her father. He was a mentor to Xavier, who recently joined the military, and he spent a great deal of time helping Jayden with schoolwork and sports.
“Daddy’s their hero,” Nixtia said. “He’s my hero, too.”
Easy was honored with a military burial at Calverton National Cemetery in Wading River on Jan. 4. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by his mother, Ruby Taylor; a sister, Melinda Chrisholm, and a nephew, Miles Chrisholm, 12.