Dr William Norrie – 2003

By Helen Norrie

What is it like to be married to Bill Norrie? That's a question that I have been often asked. The answer is "Busy!" I could also mention "interesting", "frustrating" and, at times, "exhilarating".

Since he has been in City Hall, Bill has become involved in dozens of worthwhile projects. The trouble, I tell him, is that he has never learned to say "No". Add this to the fact that he doesn't like cell phones and has never used a computer and you tend to have a very busy household. On days when we are both out of the house it's not unusual to have over twenty messages on our telephone. But friends and colleagues are patient. They just keep phoning until they reach him! It also helps that I can do typing for him.

Bill has a special gift for meeting and interacting with people. This can make it very frustrating to try to walk through a crowd with him as he inevitably stops every few steps to greet an acquaintance or to be hailed by a friend or colleague. It has also, on occasion, caused other political figures to grind their teeth.

Mayor Glen Murray laughs about the number of times he's been addressed as "Mayor Glen Norrie", or "Mayor Bill Murray". This has happened so often that Glen calls me "Mrs. Murray" when we happen to be at the same functions. I also remember accompanying another mayoralty hopeful on a trip to Folklorama. He was expecting to get lots of attention but everyone wanted to talk to Bill. I know what he felt like. Once after we had just completed visiting each of 40 pavilions at Folklorama a woman approached Bill in the airport. Her daughter had a small teddy bear whom she introduced as "Bear Mill Norrie". Then the woman turned to me and said, "You know, you should really get out in public more often!"

Bill has another characteristic that can be trying at times. He always tries to get so many meetings into each day that he is often a few minutes late for half of them. In fact when he left city hall some of the administration gave him a plaque that said, "Sorry I'm late".

Again, his friends have adapted. They just tell him the meeting starts fifteen minutes early so he makes it right on time!

With an intense interest in things political, knowledge of the law and an encyclopedic grasp of business affairs in the city, Bill is hard to stump on legal, political or economic themes. But don't ask him about sports! He confuses touchdowns with home runs and couldn't tell you who is playing in the World Series. His only claims to fame in this department are a high school curling trophy and the fact he played goalie for the Oxford hockey team when he was in England… he says that he was such a slow skater they thought that was the best place for him!

But he does enjoy cheering on his grandchildren: Allison is an accomplished woman's rugby player, Jennifer competed in provincial gymnastics and is now a coach, and Cameron is an up-and-coming basketball star.

Bill loves to travel and we've done more than our share. Besides visiting six of Winnipeg's sister cities while in office, we've led tours to Kenya and China since he has "retired". In China they always marvel at his youthful looks---possibly because their own leaders are usually well over 70. We took a marvelous group of 24 Winnipeggers to Kenya in 1996, traveling in four minivans that bounced and jolted their way over Kenyan roads. It was so rough that some members made up a song called the "Pot Hole Polka" to sing at the end of the trip.

Our children benefited from this love of travel and came along on many of the journeys. Fraser, who is at the dinner tonight, inherited such "itchy feet" that he is constantly planning, participating in or reliving a trip. We joined him last year for a great trip to Tuscany and he's just returned from Peru.

Bill loves to spend time at our cottage at Lake of the Woods. Despite all my attempts at improving his wardrobe, however, he wears his oldest, most ragged clothes whenever he is "at the lake". I'm sure more than a few visitors who have dropped in unexpectedly have been amused at his "air conditioned" shirt and torn khaki pants. At the lake he constantly works outside: raking, cutting grass, removing brush. Last summer he waged a continuous war with a beaver family. Every morning Bill removed armfuls of logs and branches from the boathouse; every night the beavers returned and filled it up with more. It's become a bit of a joke in the family. Our friends bring models and pictures of beavers when they visit the island!

Possibly the most amazing thing about Bill is his ability to juggle a dozen matters at the same time. He can be off to a 7:30 breakfast meeting for the United Way, on to an interview at the Forks at 10, out to the University for lunch with possibly a Senate meeting in the afternoon and back for a dinner at the Chinese Cultural Center at 6. I can only marvel at his stamina---I don't try to keep up!

So what's it like to be married to Bill Norrie? Well, there's never a dull moment!

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