We regret to announce the passing of Training Director John Norton

Posted by: Gordon on 2/12/2016

John Norton

John, an organizer's organizer and often the life of the party whenever organizers and leaders gathered, was one of our longest-serving staff members

Gamaliel received the sad news that John Norton suffered a heart attack while running Friday morning, the day after leading a training for ACTION of Ohio in Youngstown.

"John always said he was the funniest man in Gamaliel, and over the years he had most of us believing it," Ana Garcia-Ashley said. "One of his favorite jokes was that he felt like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. Well, today, I feel like Gamaliel has had one leg cut out from under us."

John's passing is a loss for the network, Board Chair Rev. John Welch said:

John Norton was a powerful trainer in our network, very cerebral in his approach to organizing but never left his heart behind.

My first encounter with John was during weeklong training. I was the tentative newly elected president of PIIN who sat comfortably in the back of the class the entire week "observing" everything and everybody, but not committed You see, I had "stepped into" the presidency completing the term of another leader.first encounter with John was during weeklong training. 

After our mock action, John, noticing my reserved approach agitated me publicly and said, "If you don't step up, you can be sure someone else will." Since then I have never been the same. We'll miss you, John and will remember the indelible imprint you left on this network.

John led Gamaliel's training and organizational development work for much of the past 15 years. John began his career in public life working in electoral politics in 1972. 

He took his first job as a professional community organizer with a farmer-rancher-community organization in North Dakota focused on natural resource development and strengthening rural communities that is part of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. He then worked for several urban-focused community organizations in Massachusetts and Minnesota building power for low to moderate income families in the Citizen Action network.

He began work in faith-based organizing in 1986 at the Office for Social Justice of the Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and joined Gamaliel in 1989.

John, his wife Barbara and daughters Caitie and Ellie live in St. Paul, where a memorial service is being planned.

"Our dad was out for a morning run before heading to the airport to fly home," his daughter Caitie said. "He was going to see his family and spend the weekend with his daughters and dog in the North Woods of Minnesota. We know he was doing an activity that he loved and doing work with an organization that he loved when he passed."

See more pictures of John or add one of your own, or share a story or a comment, on our Facebook page or in the comments below. 

Read John's obituary prepared by his family.

Feb 12 2016, 1:15 PM Tammy Hayward
What a loss this is to Gamaliel and to all who knew John . I am so very sorry.

Feb 12 2016, 1:24 PM Rev. De Neice Welch
My first experience with week long training began with John Norton as my trainer. He was both intimidating and direct but never in a manner to tear me down but to build me up. I will miss him dearly and hope to always hear his boisterous laugh with my heart's ear.

Feb 12 2016, 1:32 PM Vanessa Miller
So sad and shocked to hear about John. He was always my favorite trainer and I really appreciated when he sat me down and said "tell me about yourself"- he wasn't being a trainer or an organizer in that moment. It didn't even feel like a one on one. He was just being a genuine, caring person taking an interest in my story and I really appreciated that. I always looked forward to seeing John. I'll be praying for him.

Feb 12 2016, 1:44 PM Pr. Maria Santa Cruz
What sad news, John was one of my favorite trainer of Gamaliel organization. My prayers are with his family.

Feb 12 2016, 2:07 PM Pat Kuta
too soon!

Feb 12 2016, 2:10 PM Ponsella Hardaway

This is such a great loss to the organizing field, the faith community, the Gamaliel network and the people that were touched by John's humor, agitation and love. I will miss him sitting in a corner with his steel coffee mug, filled with tea and surrounded by all his techy toys with a smirk/smile on his face. He has poured his soul into thousands of people pushing them to be a force to be reckoned with. John, we love you and our prayers go out to his family. --Ponsella

Feb 12 2016, 2:26 PM Karen Blake

I am stunned to hear about the passing of John Norton. He was an amazing leader who gave so much of himself. His passion for and commitment to the groups he worked with was inspirational. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.

Feb 12 2016, 2:31 PM Cesar Hernandez
Gracias John!! Your legacy will live on in the new generation of organizers that you trained and mentored! John Norton!! Presente!!

Feb 12 2016, 2:43 PM Fr. Joe Mattern Casa Esther Catholic Worker
What a loss for all of us. J.N. - an exceptional organizer, Christian/Catholic, and human being. Just two days ago, I spent quality time in my musing about John, admiring his regimen, integrity, with special thoughts about his discipline in doing that daily run... We will have a special Lenten Mass celebrated in his memory tonight. jm

Feb 12 2016, 3:42 PM Ignacio Carrillo
John was one of the stronger pillars in the organizing world, when it came to training, he had a way to get the best out of you trough agitation,, I am please to have met and trained with the best of the best. Descanse an Pax John Norton.

Feb 12 2016, 3:43 PM Carla Jones
This is very sad information. When I first met John I was intrigued by his smooth approach. He came to Petersburg Virginia. This last training he said he wanted to do a week long training in Petersburg. I was excited because he really cared. John your missed already. Love

Feb 12 2016, 4:46 PM Marie Malinowski
He one's told me he hates people but I nerver believed that ,when he trained he yeld and egatated really hard when I first meat him I was afraid of him but after I did a one to one with him and he said what ever help rather it was training or working with people with disabilities.I'll miss him so much

Feb 12 2016, 5:42 PM Matt Norton
Thank you all for the kind words for my brother John. He always knew what and when to say something. He truly cared for all of you.

Feb 12 2016, 6:36 PM Sheri Harris
John truly changed my life. His leadership and teaching sent me on the path that I am on today. He was a remarkable man, and will be remembered always.

Feb 12 2016, 6:53 PM Paul Marincel
John was a man of deep love and faith. His faith led him to believe in each of us. As a trainer, organizer and friend he always held out belief that we could change and grow...Thanks John, we love you.

Feb 12 2016, 11:19 PM Pamela Wentzel
I was shocked and deeply saddened by the news of his passing. John was a true joy and instramental to my training. He was also very brave and very funny. RIP

Feb 13 2016, 2:46 AM Greg Markus
I admired John's grace, wisdom, and good humor. He lives on in the work of the hundreds of leaders and organizers he helped to develop, including me.

Feb 13 2016, 4:46 AM Don Floyd
I am very glad for the opportunity to have spent time with John at the ELCA weeklong training this summer after many years without contact, and had looked forward to reestablishing our relationship. John was a good man and a true comrade in the fight. He and his important work will be greatly missed. Prayers for his family and friends.

Feb 13 2016, 4:58 AM Rev. Dennis Jacobsen
I dreamed last night that I was told of John's death. I cried. But then I went for a walk and saw John leading a training outdoors on a warm, sunny day. John's work transcends his life. His life transcends his death. John shaped, directed and led one of the most influential and powerful organizing training programs in the nation. He had a rare blend of humor and seriousness, talent and hard work, compassion and righteous anger. I miss him deeply. I also believe that he is now experiencing, on levels I can only imagine, the resurrection victory of Christ.

Feb 13 2016, 5:29 AM Anne Buckvold
It all feels too soon. "A person can act their way into a new way of thinking, but rarely does one think their way into a new way of acting." - John Norton John's legacy was that he stirred people, the church and institutions into new ways of acting. I am deeply grateful to have been a part of it. I pray for him, his family and all of us to continue that legacy. Rest in Peace John.

Feb 13 2016, 7:38 AM Rev. Fred Thelen
John has been part of the family picture of Gamaliel for me since my weeklong training in 2011 and at every national gathering since. His passion and vision for all things organizing with Gamaliel has inspired me every time. He will be missed and the family will not be the same. The challenge is for all of us to continue to live the best of the values and contributions he made in all of our collective work, in which he lives on very powerfully. I would say rest in piece, yes, but may his spirit continue to be rest-less and agitational in our lives!

Feb 13 2016, 8:08 AM Sherita Edwards-Barnes
All to soon! Wow, I'm saddened by hearing the news of John Norton and my heartfelt prayers goes out to his wife, daughters, family, and the Gamaliel network. Who wasn't motivated by John and who wasn't initially scared by John during some type of training rather it be week-long or organizers training...then to find out that he only pushed you to make you better, stronger, and so that you could truly live out your faith with power in the public arena. John, thank you for personally impacting my life! We miss you already...

Feb 13 2016, 8:24 AM Rev. Carlos Younger
During my first 2 years as a part of the PRISCM Organization, I was blessed to interact with John. His knowledge, his humorous personality and his willingness to help was an invaluable asset to me as an individual and our organization as well. I will be in prayer for the National Leadership and his family during this season of transition.

Feb 13 2016, 11:28 AM Paul Turner
I was stunned by this news and still am. I worked closely with John over 20 years ago when he was still with the Catholic Social Justice Office. Great humor, abiding anger, unwavering commitment to his work and someone I learned a lot from. My sincere condolences to his family and colleagues.

Feb 13 2016, 11:46 AM Connie Ratcliff
John, will definately be missed throughout Gamaliel. He was passionate about his calling and made his election sure. I am blessed by his knowledge and hope for people. Giving John a big hug was a joy to see wherever and whenever I was around him. My sincere sympathy to his wife and daughters as we pray for God's Peace. Connie Ratcliff, Erie, PA

Feb 13 2016, 11:54 AM Connie Ratcliff
We will miss John. I am blessed to have shared a slice of life being around him. His passion for social justice was contagious and his resolve to build and to change lives was with hope. I pray for his wife and daughters during this time. He will be remembered throughout the Gamaliel Organization. Connie Ratcliff, Erie, PA

Feb 13 2016, 11:54 AM Connie Ratcliff
We will miss John. I am blessed to have shared a slice of life being around him. His passion for social justice was contagious and his resolve to build and to change lives was with hope. I pray for his wife and daughters during this time. He will be remembered throughout the Gamaliel Organization. Connie Ratcliff, Erie, PA

Feb 13 2016, 12:47 PM Joe Chrastil
When I first met John as a young organizer in the early 80’s with Minnesota COACT, I was impressed by his swagger, quick smile and blunt language. Many of our conversations started with him saying “Damn it Chrastil, we should be __ “ … with the blank filled in by something related to turning up the tension in a campaign or having more fun as a group of colleagues. We reconnected years later - John now with Gamaliel and me with the IAF – like lost brothers. The first thing that jumped out at me when we started catching up, was how important his family was, how deep his love and how much he hoped he was finding the right balance between his work and family life. It was also clear how much he valued his work and the great leaders and colleagues he had in the Gamaliel family. John’s loss leaves a big hole to fill. I know that I am one among many organizers across our various organizing traditions and networks that share your great loss and deep grief … and want you all to feel our heartfelt condolences.

Feb 13 2016, 2:11 PM Kelley Maginnis
I posted this on Facebook. I graduated from Leadership in 2011. I am so sorry to hear this news. My experience with John is that he could kick anyone's butt by just saying a few words. He had a way of pulling emotion out of people that those people had no intention of releasing. It pissed them off, but in the end, it was well worth it. John wasn't a bully. He seemed like one, at times. He knew what he was doing. I respected him. I liked the fact that when he was addressing people, he would start out by calling us brothers and sisters, as well as addressing us as friends. He was honest with us about his own life and mistakes. I think one of the lessons he tried to teach, was that any chinks in the armor, better he find them first and teach you how to fix them, rather than someone you're up against when trying to advocate for yourself and/or your child. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Brother Norton.

Feb 13 2016, 5:06 PM Dave Swanson
John was badass. One time in training he was role playing a landlord avoiding a meeting and it was my job to get him into the meeting. We were out in the hall alone. I tried to steer him into the meeting and he immediately started yelling at me for putting a hand on him. We almost came to blows. I thought, this guy is really going to hit me! He didn't, but he so believed in the work he was doing that, even in a role play, you thought, "This guy might do anything." We've lost someone utterly sold out to the work of justice. Hopefully the rest of us can follow his example and develop passion as deep, and perspective and priorities as focused as John did. Rest now, John.

Feb 13 2016, 5:24 PM Tammie Edmunds
Rest in peace John.

Feb 13 2016, 5:26 PM Tammie Edmunds
The Norton Family has my deepest sympathy. RIP John!

Feb 13 2016, 6:11 PM Rev. Dr. Mark I. Wegenr

John was one of those who brought me into the orbit of community based organizing. I am grateful for his care-full encouragement, for his willingness to bring me along at my own (somewhat tardy and reluctant) pace, and for his honest-to-God decency. - Mark Wegener

Feb 14 2016, 5:05 AM Tad Wysor
What a loss! Deep condolences to John’s family, friends, and fellow travelers. Typical of John, racing between workshop sessions at the Race and Power Summit last year, John did a full stop amid the intensity of his responsibilities at the event to grin, give me his full attention, and ask about my family and share about his. I wish I had told him then that no single person had more to do with instilling in me a commitment to serious organizing and joyful living, starting with 4 years in the 80s in MN as the agitating and caring boss of this new organizer and new dad. Special memory of the guy: Who but John would have/could have proposed a mass skinny-dip at the pitch-dark Lake Michigan beach outside of an exhausting Gamaliel staff retreat a few years ago, AND have a couple dozen of us splash in with him?! We'll miss you, Brother!

Feb 14 2016, 9:09 AM Lisa Lederer
The first night of training, I was skeptical about how much we would really benefit. John led our first session. When he left some of us trainees stunned speechless by his seemingly irreverent questions, I knew this was for real -- that NLT was truly going to be a life-changing experience.

Feb 15 2016, 7:29 AM Marissa Grott
Every single person at Gamaliel and beyond knows how much I loved John Norton. From the start of my time at Gamaliel, John was more of a father figure to me than anything else. John showed me what a leader I was when no one else could get it across to me. He pushed me in ways that showed me how much I was hiding from myself and how much I could offer this world. John gently challenged my leadership, my faith, my personal and professional life and so much more to show me my very essence and core. I know my relationship with John was unique and I swear it was because he loved his own daughters so much and saw I needed that same kind of support that fathers can offer. John is the reason I survived my mom going through chemo and the person who helped me survive some serious loss I have felt over the past 4 years. He celebrated my accomplishments with me and even (painstakingly) knew it was a good career move to move beyond Gamaliel when it was time. I wasn't even hesitant to call John about this move because I knew he was my friend, my mentor and as close to family as they come. I knew he would have my back. John is one of the most important people I have ever met and I am so grateful for his beautiful stories about Barb, Caitie, Ellie, Kipp & the rest of his family because I know his life was filled with so much love. I have never felt so unconditionally loved by a friend and am so lucky John knew how deep his place in my heart was and will always be. Damn it, John, we had a talk planned this week. So much love to you, friend.

Feb 15 2016, 10:27 AM Mary Hanna
John was a powerful force for good. You knew that he was always committed to "walking his talk". He was dedicated to helping people identify and own their personal power, and use it as a force for positive social change. He challenged the status quo, encouraged thinking outside the box, and firmly believed that each of us can make a difference. I feel blessed that I had an opportunity to know him, if only for a little while.

Feb 16 2016, 5:43 AM Michael Tasse

During a cold February afternoon at a weeklong training I had taken part in, John explained the power of an intentional one-on-one conversation with another person. John was a stern guy, and extremely serious about his work, but there was also a sincerity that would show in his words when he absolutely meant them. In a small group breakout with several of the trainers he spoke of how important this work was to him. To paraphrase, he said: "Inside the one-on-one is where I find God. Taking part in an intentional conversation with another person, learning about how their experiences shaped them and even helping them understand that their story is indeed powerful. It is where I find one of the strongest connections to humanity, and in that is where I feel the presence of God." I never will forget the importance of taking the sacred time we have one on one with others seriously. I will never forget what John Norton awoke inside me with his words, and his actions. My condolences to his family. - Michael

Feb 16 2016, 9:52 AM Leslie Kilgannon
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from John Norton. He listened to me and helped me through some very sad family stuff and he challenged me - always. We shared a common sense of humor and love of things Irish. Thank you for the impact you made on all of our lives. I am better person and organizer for having known you. What a genuine and decent man. Love you John Norton.

Feb 17 2016, 3:27 AM Carl Foote
Our pastor, father Phaedo, at Saint Luke's Church in Boardman Ohio, told us of this tragedy in his homilies this weekend. Please exceptmy sincere condolences for the loss of this valuable member of your team and society.

Feb 19 2016, 10:00 PM Paul Robbins
I will always remember John for his passion that moved everyone around him. He spoke tellingly of the danger of decline for religious denominations that did not engage society for justice. Rest in power, John. Presente!

Feb 29 2016, 2:49 PM Kathy Partridge
I first met John at a site visit in the Twin Cities in the 1990s. When I suggested a dinner with his leadership, he said there would be about 18 people attending! I was so impressed. Over the years I was with Interfaith Funders, I had many chances to interact with John, and attend his trainings. He was very influential to me, and I will be among the multitudes who will miss him. Thoughts and prayers for his family, friends, and the whole Gamaliel network.

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