Bob Norris: Knowing a great friend

On Saturday, Oct. 17, Bob Norris will be honored at the Berkshire South’s sixth annual Fairy Tale Ball. I expect that everyone will want to be there.

Bob Norris is the man. Our Berkshires community is both blessed and extraordinarily lucky have him. I have probably written more about Bob than any other single Berkshireite. He is a wonderful neighbor and when the chips are down, he really is a best friend.

Put simply, our gain is Marshalltown, Iowa’s loss. You can’t classify him. He plays golf with the golf players. He eats with Chartocks.That’s a long distance. He has been a top guy at the Rotary and, more than anyone else, it is he who has made the Berkshire South Community Center what it is today.

There are a lot of children, seniors, and middle aged adults who owe this guy one hell of a lot. Interestingly, Bob eschews thank you’s, but anytime you do something good, he is the first one there with his favorite phrase, “Bless you.” Bob is one of the more fortunate among us who really tries to give back and who truly believes in helping his fellow human beings.

He could be sitting in a house on a mountain top, surrounded by servants, tennis courts, swimming pools and a lot of very expensive cars. Nope, he and his beautiful wife, Mary Anne, choose to live in our mixed neighborhood with people of all dimensions, religions and incomes.

The other day I was talking to someone who had done some work for him. The man summed it up this way: “He’s a regular guy.”

That he is.

His family made the Lennox heating and air conditioning company what it is today. He opted out and became a teacher for the Steiner School, where he had enormous influence on hundreds of kids and is still legendary. They still talk about the day that he went downstairs to feed the dogs and cats and saw a visitor, a skunk, eating along with the others.

Apparently, he let out an invective and the skunk did what skunks do. Unfortunately, the intake from the heating unit was on and smell of skunk pervaded the house. When Bob got to school the secretary took one whiff and pointed at the door with instructions not to come back until he smelled better.

He could be sitting on a beach drinking tall lemonades but nope, he chose us. The list of recipients of his generosity is very long. The Rudolph Steiner School, WAMC, The Mahaiwe, Railroad Street Youth and so many more that they can’t all be listed here. His generosity seems to know no bounds. He has wonderful children and grandchildren who are following in his footsteps, trying to make the world a better, safer place.

Trust me, it’s not just the money, it’s the integrity. He’s got a lot guts. He’s committed to kids and hates the spread of drugs among them.I know personally how much he has done to clean up the mess that was once a blight on Great Barrington.

The town of Great Barrington once did something very unfair to the Chartocks and I asked them to make it right. The showdown with the officials finally came on Sumner Street, where Bob and I live on Great Barrington’s Hill. I turned around, and unlike “High Noon,” there was one guy standing behind me. We got redress. I have always thought that seeing Bob there made a difference.

There are lots of people with lots of money, either inherited or earned. Frankly, the Berkshires are full of them. Many of them are concerned, decent people who really do care. They go to the events they are supposed to go to. In fact, most of our cultural institutions would be lost without them.

Most of them don’t do it to get honored. They realize they are just a bit luckier than the rest of us and want to give something back.

But with all that said, there is only one Bob Norris. I am sure that he resisted this honor that he so richly deserves. I am sure he won’t like this column. It’s not in his nature.

In the end I am sure that he accepted his designation as this year’s honoree because he cares more about Berkshire South, his baby, than he cares about having a little well deserved light shone on him.

Bless you, Bob.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/26/09

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