By Bhavana Gopinath –
“It was the best day ever,” Norm Morrison says. “I’ve had lots of good days, but this was special.”
Norm’s “best day” was September 7th when His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston honoured him with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers. This official Canadian honour (which replaces the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award) recognizes the dedication and commitment of extraordinary volunteers from around the nation.
For several years now, Norm has devoted his time to helping people and the community at large. He is a familiar face in the Kitchissippi community and can be seen walking his miniature schnauzer McGraw on most mornings along Richmond Road, Byron Avenue and Holland Avenue. McGraw, who is Norm’s “four-legged exercise machine,” helps Norm keep in touch with residents and watch the developments in the area.
Norm is a “father figure” at Westfest and has been part of the festival since its inception. He has also volunteered for the Westboro Community Association for six years, and has been its chair for three.
His interests extend beyond the immediate neighbourhood: Norm has used his festival-organizing skills to support other community events in Ottawa, notably Hope Volleyball, Bluesfest, and the Tulip Festival. Norm has also been active with the Shriners and was the CEO and Potentate in 2007. An alumna of Sheridan College, he sat on its board for three years and then served as its Vice-Chairman. He has also been deeply involved with the Salvation Army and the Charity of Hope.
Norm is an affable and modest person, and is genuinely baffled when asked how he finds the hours in the week or the energy to contribute so much of himself. He thinks for a moment, and says, “It’s easy to give back; I’m retired and happy to give my time.” He adds, “I like the neighbourhood, I like to give back to causes, whether charitable or social, and I enjoy helping other people.”
Norm grew up in Oakville, worked in Toronto and Pittsburgh and moved to the Kitchissippi area more than 20 years ago. He has a business administration degree and has worked in computer services. Throughout his career, he managed his time to achieve professionally and contribute to society; both aspects were important and he never saw these objectives as ever being in conflict in his life.
He met his wife of 20 years, Judith, on a blind date at Kristy’s restaurant on Richmond Road many years ago, and as he says, “the rest is history.” Judith is from Ottawa, and is a retired nurse.
After years of active and dedicated volunteering, Norm is gradually slowing down. While he maintains that he is only “69 years young,” he says that his knee doesn’t agree with the “young” part. Health concerns have had him stop his work with the Tulip Festival altogether. He hasn’t gone to Bluesfest in three years, and skipped Westfest for the first time in 12 years. He misses his “family of friends” at every festival, he admits. He is still involved with the Westboro Community Association and works closely with the city and developers to help preserve the unique charms of the neighbourhood.
When Norm learned that he’d been nominated for the Sovereign’s Medal some months ago, he was philosophical about it — “If it happens, it happens” — and went on about his work. He is deeply appreciative of the honour bestowed upon him. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he says. He was happy that his family — his wife, sister and brother-in-law — were invited to the ceremony, and watched him receive the medal from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.
Norm is not one to rest on his laurels. He is thinking of his meetings for the week ahead, and about how to help others, as always.
“I didn’t do this for the medal,” he says. “I enjoy working for the community.”