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.
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