Former Winnipeg mayor Bill Norrie died in hospital this morning. He was 83.
Helen Norrie said her husband had not been well over the last few months and died early this morning from respiratory failure. She said the Norrie family will hold a memorial service on July 11 at 1 p.m at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. The memorial will be open to the public.
"I think we'll remember him chiefly as someone who loved his city and the people of this city," Helen Norrie said this morning. "He loved being mayor, he said it was the best job he ever had."
Norrie was Winnipeg's second longest-serving mayor. He was first elected in 1979 and served 13 years until 1992. He was a member of the first Unicity council in 1971 and sat as a councillor until he became acting mayor when Robert Steen died in 1979, then won the subsequent election.
Norrie sat for 13 years before deciding to retire from politics in 1992. During his time in office, he oversaw construction of Portage Place as part of the Core Area Initiative and the reclamation of The Forks.
He went on to act as the conflict-of-interest commissioner for the province, was an honorary consul general for Japan, and was the chancellor of the University of Manitoba between 2001 and 2009.
Current Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz praised Norrie’s "phenomenal dedication" to the city, both during his time in office and after he returned to private life.
"Even after his time as Mayor, Bill and his wife Helen continued to make a contribution to the City of Winnipeg. Bill will be remembered as a calm, soft-spoken man, dedicated to serving the citizens of this city," Katz said in a statement.
Katz invited Winnipeggers to sign a book of condolence, which will be placed in the foyer outside the mayor’s office on the second floor of the council building at city hall, 510 Main St. The book will be available for signing until the final council meeting of the summer on July 18. An electronic book of condolence will be placed on www.winnipeg.ca.
Flags at city hall and city facilities will be lowered until sunset on July 11.
Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith, the only current member of council who served with Norrie, said he admired the former mayor because he was independent. "He wasn’t aligned with the labour unions or with the Chamber of Commerce," Smith said.
'Follow me, I'm right behind you'
Susan Thompson, who succeeded Norrie in 1992, said she admired him for his dedication.
"I admired his courage and his years of devotion to public life. I always felt that in Bill’s heart, he always had the best interest of the city at heart," Thompson said.
Glen Murray, who served as Winnipeg mayor from 1998 to 2004, said few Winnipeg politicians accomplished as much as Bill Norrie did during his period as mayor.
"Much of what we cherish in Winnipeg, our quality of life and culture, he was responsible: The Forks and The Core Area Initiative among them," Murray, now an Ontario MPP, said from Halifax.
"His detractors used to have a joke about him: They used to say his leadership style was ‘Follow me, I’m right behind you.’ But this was a man who had very little ego. Many of the things he pulled together and organized, he put in the hands of other people to lead," Murray said.
"He was somebody who never worried about getting credit for things. He worked very hard to get things done. He was a selfless man, in an extraordinary way."
Life 'devoted to service'
Norrie was a University of Manitoba chancellor emeritus, graduate, honorary degree recipient and Rhodes Scholar.
"We are all saddened by the death of Bill Norrie," said David Barnard, U of M president and vice-chancellor. "He served this community, our province and our university with intelligence, compassion and dignity."
Born in St. Boniface in 1929, Bill Norrie received his bachelor of arts degree from United College in 1950 and graduated from the U of M Faculty of Law in 1955.
"Winnipeg has lost one of its longest-serving and most highly regarded leaders. Bill’s whole life was devoted to service and to making his community a better place," said University of Manitoba Chancellor Harvey Secter.
"As chancellor he shared his time, his wisdom and his passion for learning with the University of Manitoba community. I offer Helen, their families and Bill’s many friends my sympathies."
In 2010, the University of Manitoba honoured the Norries by designating a popular pedestrian corridor near the Engineering Building the William and Helen Norrie Walkway.