April 3, 2009

Former Mayor Stretch Norton left a legacy

One of the city’s giants died Friday.

J. Harwood “Stretch” Norton -- a former owner of Lake Compounce, ex-mayor and a World War II veteran who saw kamikazes plunging into ships off Okinawa – brought a generous spirit and genuine love for his hometown to a lifetime of activity.

“He was one of the most gracious, considerate individuals that I’ve come in contact with,” Mayor Art Ward said. “Just a true gentleman.”

Norton, 86, has been ill in recent years, no longer able to get out much or to participate in the civic life he’d known since a childhood spent roaming his family’s amusement park.

As a politician, Norton proudly pointed to his integrity as his strong suit.

“I won’t wheel and deal,” he once told a reporter.

His bipartisan spirit – understandable in a man who didn’t become a Republican until 1968 – made him friends on both sides of the political aisle.

A decade ago, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called Norton “one of the great Americans, one of the great Connecticut citizens.”

Ward called Norton “a mentor” and “the most bipartisan person I’ve ever worked with.”

The mayor said Norton was “dedicated to the city of Bristol” throughout a long career.

As a one-term mayor elected in 1969, Norton said he set the stage for ESPN to locate in Bristol through his work on the industrial redevelopment of Middle Street.

“If it weren’t for that succeeding, I don’t think ESPN would be in Bristol today,” Norton said a few years ago.

Norton also took credit during his administration for improving conditions at the Cambridge Park housing project and helping to launch the Barnes Nature Center.

Norton managed Lake Compounce in the 1970s until his family sold the park in 1985. But he always kept it close to his heart.

Norton served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he took part in the massive naval armada that descended on Okinawa as the Americans closed in on Japan.

A Yale graduate, Norton worked as engineer for the Wallace Barnes Co. before turning to politics and taking the helm at the nation’s oldest amusement park, founded by his great grandfather in 1846.

The Press plans a more complete story about Norton next week.

Norton is survived by his wife, Carrie, and four grown children.

Calling hours for Norton are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Funk Funeral Home. A funeral service is slated for 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph Church.

A private burial with military honors will be held later at Lake Avenue Cemetery, where generations of Nortons have been laid to rest.

If anyone would like to contribute memories of Norton for a story, please send them to me at scollins@bristolpress.com. Be sure to include your name and phone number.

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com


Concerned Conservative said...

A truly great man of Bristol, the state of Connecticut and of America.

He is missed.

Concerned Conservative said...

Those who knew Stretch liked him very much to say the least. He was a terrific man.

As far as your comment on his "bi-partisanship", perhaps it was less because of that (being "bi-partisan") and more that the Democrat Party since 1968 had/has swung so far to the left? That is what I believe to be true of Norton and many of his generation (in Bristol) who were active in polictics and whom I know very well. I'm sorry I can't let one use this time to take a shot at the political party which Norton loved and supported so much. He wouldn't want that. He was bi-partisan because he loved Bristol in general and he enjoyed and cared for many of the people here.

Steve Collins said...

Stretch told me once that he became a Republican after he watched the Chicago police in 1968 beating hippie demonstrators at the Democratic national convention. Stretch said he was so disgusted at Mayor Daley's orders and the cops behavior that he gave up on the Democrats completely. (For those who don't know, Daley and his cops were Democrats; the demonstrators were mostly anti-war college students, with whom Stretch sympathized.)
Of course, as I'm reading through old clips, I realize Stretch ran for mayor in 1967 as a Republican so I know that what he told me wasn't quite right. But what I'm pretty sure he meant is that the beating of those protesters turned him against the Democrats.
Still, it's no wonder he was bipartisan to his core. He believed in government, not politics, as he said all the time.

Concerned Conservative said...

So he was sometimes (if not often) non-partisan. Bi-partisan is the example or effort of both parties working together. For instance when Norton was became mayor in 1969 he asked the Board of Finance Chairman (a Democrat) to remain as Finance Chairman chairman. Although that individual declined (out of allegiance to his friend the defeated former mayor...according to Norton), this was an example of J. Harwood's non-partisan behavior.

But a point can be made that the Democrat Finance Board Chairman at the time was much smarter, knowledgable, and actually more fiscally conservative than Stretch's Republican Colleagues. So perhaps Stretch was just practical in a city dominated by the vast Democrat majority? I think most of the time, that was the case.

Steve Collins said...

Stretch was, above all, practical. He was an engineer, after all. So perhaps you're right.

Concerned Conservative said...

I must say Steve that your write-ups on Stretch here are very nice. Aside from a couple of trival things that I disagree with you on, it's great.

I'm not aware of what Stretch's views on the Viet Nam War was 41 years ago, but to insinuate that Norton's ideological parallels with the national GOP are based soley on that incident in 1968 is proposterous.

But let's save the bickering for another time and stop at this point.


cseguin said...

Bristol lost a great man, someone who did a whole lot for the city. He will certainly be missed. May he rest in peace.

Tim Gamache said...

I'll let the rest of you debate the politics.I will simply say it was an honor to know him.He would always make time to discuss ANYTHING BRISTOL with anyone.A true gentleman whose integrity was his legacy.He will be missed but never forgotten.

straight tongue, not forked said...

Concerned Conservative - is it too hard to just respect the contributions of such a dedicated Bristolite, without exceptions?
I hope that you will realize that YOU have the responsibility of ensuring that Mayor Norton's efforts were not in vain and that you can give the same comfort to the community that he and his family did.
Idealism is one thing, reality is the truth.

Anonymous said...

He and his lovely wife still made it to some of the Historical Society events and when I joined, I was so pleased to meet him and hear his stories. He was a treasure and I am sure my fellow members of the Historical Society will miss his involvement and stories.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it ironic that so many mayors get castigated while in office, and for some time afterwards, when in reality,each did accomplish something that only gets recognized after they are gone.
Maybe we ought to try to be a little more objective and appreciate those that have and do serve.

Anonymous said...

Wisely said 3:25.