A "caring clown" who brought hope, laughter and a bit of silliness to hundreds of hospital patients on Maui, died last month.
Noma Wilson, famously known as Fumbles the Caring Clown, entertained patients and staff at Maui Memorial Medical Center from the late 1990s through the 2000s.
"She was the clown in the family," said nurse Judy Kodama. "She went around the hospital and would cheer everybody up. Whenever there was a hospital event or bake sale she would show up and make everybody laugh."
Wilson, 87, died Feb. 19 at Maui Memorial Medical Center. Her ashes were scattered by the Kihei Canoe Club on her birthday Friday morning at a beach in South Maui.
Growing up in Alhambra, Calif., she was a child vaudeville star, performing in venues such as the Pantages Theatre and the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. She later became a training instructor for Arthur Murray teachers, specializing in cha cha and West Coast swing.
When she moved to Maui in the early 1970s, she learned hula from legendary instructor "Auntie Emma" Sharpe and later taught children at church.
The Maalaea resident did not become her affable alter ego until her second husband, Jim Wilson, was killed in automobile crash in 1988.
"That's when she decided to be a clown," said her daughter, Vicki Churchill.
Wilson attended clown camp at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, the birthplace of Fumbles the Caring Clown.
"She always liked dance, and she always liked acting," Churchill said. "But she was a very shy person and clowning was very easy for her to be somebody else and come out of the box."
She remembers her mother, who was dressed in a red, polka dot dress with large shoes and a white face, being pretty good at falling. As a teenager attending professional schools on Hollywood Boulevard, Wilson learned how to do pratfalls from Mickey Rooney.
"My mother always wanted to be in show business," she said.
As a member and former president of the hospital's auxiliary, Wilson brought her act to the medical center, but that was not enough.
"She taught a bunch of us how to be clowns, or attempted to," said Emily Bott. "I could never master the balloon animals."
Bott said that Wilson was a figure at the hospital for years and had bigger dreams for the auxiliary than she ever had. She said Wilson wanted to have a group of "caring clowns."
"I remember she had three or four of us walking around her apartment with kazoos," she said. "I had a toothbrush hanging from mine and a dental mirror. . . . She was teaching us all the stuff she learned in clown school."
Although Wilson did not get her kazoo band started, she helped many patients and staff get through some of their tougher days at the hospital.
Her best friend, Bubba, a blonde Shih Tzu, would accompany her wherever she went with an equally silly costume. Their act helped many patients, including terminal ones, find peace.
"She was so kind," remembers Kodama, who was a former manager of the intensive-care unit at the medical center. "Whenever the staff was sad she would come and lighten up your day."
Wilson is survived by Churchill; grandson, Steven Coopmire; and his son, Aric, and hanai sister Nancy Self.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.