Lawyer, community leader and politician, William Norrie has, for most of his adult life, devoted himself to many of the important issues facing his community and has, for much of that time, been one of the community's leaders.
Born in St. Boniface in 1929, the younger of the two children of William and Mary Rae Norrie, he attended schools in Winnipeg and entered United College, now the University of Winnipeg, on an Isbister Scholarship. On completion of his Bachelor of Arts, he entered the Manitoba Law School. While a student in Law he served as President of the University of Manitoba Students' Union - a not unworthy office - and was awarded the Manitoba Rhodes Scholarship. On his return from Oxford, William Norrie received his Bachelor of Laws degree from this University and entered the private practice of law.
One might infer, Mr. Chancellor, that for all its glories, the law could not fully contain the aspirations, capacities and enthusiasms of William Norrie, for early on he was drawn irresistibly to both community service and to public life. His community service was wide and varied and encompassed twenty-four years on the Board of Regents of United College and the University of Winnipeg and ten years on the National Commission on Church Union which was studying the possible union of the Anglican and United churches.
In 1962 he was elected to the Winnipeg School Board where he played a leading part in developing the concept of joint use agreements and in the campaign to reduce the size of the school board. In 1971 he was elected to the first unicity council; in 1977 he was elected by his colleagues as Deputy Mayor and, in 1979 became Acting Mayor on the death of Mayor Robert Steen. Confirmed as Mayor in a subsequent by-election, he was re-elected four times and served until 1992, when he did not seek re-election.
William Norrie served in public office for a total of 28 years, of which the 20 years in municipal office spanned a particularly important period. The years immediately after the Second World War had been years of great economic expansion, in which most parts of Canada shared to some degree. By the 1970's, however, it was becoming clear that in some areas, Winnipeg among them, growth was no longer certain or automatic and that a new challenge was that of governing intelligently and creatively in less auspicious times.
It would not be claimed of Mayor Norrie (nor of any politician of any era) that all problems were surmounted or all challenges met. However, as Mayor of Winnipeg, Bill Norrie, despite his buoyant optimism, did not pretend that the problems were not there. The Core Area Initiative, the North Portage Corporation and the Forks Redevelopment, and initiatives on race relations and refugees and arts funding, however they may ultimately be judged, represented substantial attempts to address substantial issues. These spoke of a desire to make a better city and went far beyond bread and circuses or the mindless boosterism that is the occupational disease of so many municipal politicians.
Apart from his willingness to deal in real issues, Bill Norrie brought certain estimable qualities and attitudes to public office. Though not a populist, his openness, accessibility and affability made him in a very real sense, mayor of all the people, something demonstrated graphically in the 1983 election when he won every poll in the city. He was a politician of decent instincts and reasoned impulses. He has brought intelligence, civility and a sense of calm to public debate and controversy; a conciliator and slow to anger, he seemed unperturbed by personal criticism from political opponents or, one may add, from political columnists. He has, in short, made a worthy contribution to this city and an honourable contribution to its public life.
Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour and a particular personal pleasure for me to ask, in the name of the Senate of the University of Manitoba, that you confer on William Norrie, the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
-citation delivered by Arnold Naimark, President, University of Manitoba