Fall 2021

Brighter Than Any Diamond

Family gift honors a lifetime of love and a gem of the Tucson community

When Allan Norville first met his future wife, Alfie, he was smitten. At the time, she had recently lost her husband to a stroke and was seven months pregnant with her fourth child. The Norvilles met in Illinois, where Alfie ran the small contracting business she had started with her husband. 

Their encounter was the beginning of Allan’s decades of admiration for the exceptional intelligence, strength and beauty of the woman he would soon marry.

Working as a contractor and running a business as a single mother of four was pioneering in the late 1950s and early ’60s. When the Norville family moved to Tucson in 1964, Alfie changed careers, becoming the first female stockbroker in the city.

This alone was enough to build a legacy, but Alfie didn’t stop there. Her interests were broad, and her perspective was visionary.

By the 1990s, the Norvilles were well established in real estate and involved in the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. There was talk that the show could move to Phoenix or Las Vegas. Like many others, Alfie saw this as a potential loss to the Tucson community — but unlike anyone else, she also saw a solution.

In 1991, Alfie suggested to Allan that they host a wholesale gem show in the space they owned across from the Tucson Convention Center — the Tucson Gem Show’s main venue. At the time, Allan responded, “We don’t know anything about that.” 

In 1992, Alfie said, “We really should do a gem show,” and Allan responded, “It doesn’t fit our business profile.” In 1993, Alfie said, “We are going to do a gem show,” and together they made the Gem and Jewelry Exchange, better known as GJX, a reality.

In 1994, under the GJX mantle, 33 wholesale vendors set up shop in the heart of Tucson’s downtown, a short walk from the Tucson Convention Center. The next year, 100 vendors showed up — and GJX kept growing. Today, GJX hosts more than 700 vendors. 

Allan credits Alfie for fulfilling her vision and running a successful business enterprise that helped ground the Gem Show in Tucson. From Allan’s perspective, this local treasure and international sensation synonymous with Tucson might never have taken root without Alfie.

Alfie’s vision was just the beginning. Every year the GJX show became a family affair — all four children helped out, as did Allan. But Alfie was the star vendors gravitated to. “She was the best ambassador that Tucson could ever have for the Gem Show,” Allan says. 

Every year they ran GJX together, Allan surprised Alfie with a gem or piece of jewelry from the show. “She was an Aries girl,” he says with a smile. “Diamonds were her favorite, though she loved emeralds, too.” 

In 2015, Allan was getting ready to surprise Alfie with having the University of Arizona’s Gem and Mineral Museum named in her honor, but, in his words, “We lost her” before she found out.

Allan later provided the lead gift to move the Gem and Mineral Museum into the Historic Pima County Courthouse, giving the extensive collection more room for display. But he’ll be the first to say, “Don’t thank me — thank Alfie.” 

As much as she loved diamonds, those who loved her say, Alfie was brighter than any diamond. The Norville family is proud that the Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum bears Alfie’s name and honors her legacy as a gem among gems.

Watch a Video about the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum