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Max E. Norman, 86, of Overland Park, Kan., died March 9 of natural causes.
In his 28 years with the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Norman left an indelible impression on the area’s transportation infrastructure.
He was a nationally recognized expert in the field, particularly commercial aviation, and helped secure the bond package that built Kansas City International Airport.
“He was the go-to guy on aviation issues,” said Linda Hall Daschle, wife of former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle.
She met Norman in the 1970s when she worked for the federal government. The airline industry recently had been deregulated, and cities such as Kansas City were anxious about losing airline business to bigger markets.
“He was very much involved in making sure that TWA did not leave,” Daschle said.
When Norman retired from the chamber in 1990, a proclamation from Kansas City described his involvement in the city’s commercial aviation history as “legendary” and said his “personal friendships with airline executives from around the world have given this city’s aviation community an instant conduit for communications.”
Norman also was recognized for key contributions to other area projects, including the construction of the Truman Sports Complex and the Heart of America Bridge and the completion and improvement of the interstate highway system.
At the chamber, Norman always was ready to help younger colleagues negotiate the often complex interplay between business and government entities.
“He was one of the greatest guys you could find,” said Gary Sage, who worked with Norman at the chamber in the late 1980s. “If you took a poll of chamber staff, he was probably the most well-liked. He was a terrific person to be around.”
Linda Daschle also counts Norman as a mentor. “He is one of the people that made a huge difference in my now 35-year aviation career.”
Sage, now an official with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City, and Daschle said Norman’s personality was marked by a lively sense of humor.
His daughter, Jan Cummings, said he was ahead of his time when it came to promoting gender equality. “He wanted to see everyone succeed,” she said. “He was not a man’s world kind of guy.”
Born in the southern Missouri town of Ava, Norman served in the Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War.
In 1946 he married his wife, Jean, and in 1959 they moved into a house in what is now Overland Park.
Back then, 95th Street was a gravel road, recalled son, Brad Norman, who said his father pushed for the area to become part of the newly incorporated town of Overland Park.
Jan Cummings said her father’s interest in aviation never was far below the surface.
“I remember standing in the front yard and seeing a plane overhead,” she recalled. “He could tell you which flight it was and where it was going.”
Before going to work for the chamber in 1962, Max Norman was a salesman for the Wrigley Chewing Gum Co., which meant no shortage of gum for his kids.
“Our friends came over all the time and begged for gum,” said Brad Norman, whose children still refer to Wrigley products as “Grandpa gum.”
Norman and his wife traveled extensively and made numerous trips to Ireland as part of their interest in Belleek porcelain ware. He was a member of the Belleek International Collectors Society’s Hall of Fame.
Survivors include his wife, a daughter, a son, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Linda Daschle maintained her friendship with the Normans after leaving Kansas City in 1982. “He’ll always be remembered for his incredible grace under pressure, love for family and his passion for work,” she said.
(This tribute to Max Norman was written by Tony Rizzo and appeared in the Kansas City Star on Friday, April 1.)