City Mourns Loss of Former City Planner

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File Photo of Milford City Planner Gary Norris
File Photo of Milford City Planner Gary Norris

By Terry Rogers

On Friday, May 22, Gary Norris, who retired as the City of Milford City Planner in 2013, passed away suddenly at his home in Milton. Mr. Norris was 68 years old.

“I was shocked and saddened to hear of Mr. Norris’ passing,” said Councilman Jamie Burk who served as the Chairman of the Planning Commission with the City for several years before becoming a councilman. “For many years on the Planning Commission, I worked with Gary. My deepest condolences and prayers go out to his family.”

Those who knew Mr. Norris said that he was a caring, affectionate, dependable and unassuming man with a quiet but confident manner. He loved history, politics, geography, sports and the arts. He was also affectionately known as the “neighborhood weatherman,” according to his family. Mr. Norris enjoyed life at the beach and took advantage of every opportunity to indulge in his passion for good food, drink, music and friendship.

Mr. Norris is survived by a long-time companion, Barbara Rankin. He was devoted to his family which included Holly, Calvin, Olivia and Camyrn Shearer; Mary, Glen, Adam and Anna Birmingham; Laura Robson; Tam, Andrew, Silje and Charles Rankin. He was born in 1946 in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, to the late Roberta and James Norris.

During his time with the City of Milford, Mr. Norris planned and developed significant aspects of the town center, riverfront and adjacent developments. During his time as the city planner, Milford was awarded the “Great Places in America: Streets” award from the American Planning Association. He had served as a planner in Pennsylvania and Arizona.

“I worked with Gary for about eight years after I returned to the City,” said Richard Carmean, who retired this year as Milford City Manager. “Gary was a gentleman, and when I say that, I mean he was a gentle man. I never heard him speak ill of anyone. In his line of work, Gary was required to tell people things they didn’t want to hear. He always managed to do it in a way that helped ease the blow.”

Mr. Carmean said that Mr. Norris’ career in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania was very helpful when it came to planning in Milford. While Mr. Norris was working in Chambersburg, the city was named “Outstanding Plan for Small Jurisdictions” by the Pennsylvania Planning Association.

“Because Milford was moving in a similar direction with the downtown area, history and such, which was also part of what he did in Chambersburg, his background was very important to moving Milford in the direction it needed to move,” Mr. Carmean said. “I know there were times when Gary had his own ideas of how things should go, but, in the end, he did what council wanted and never with any hard feelings when he felt the City should go in a different direction.”

Mr. Carmean said that he was extremely saddened to hear of Mr. Norris’ passing as he knew that he was looking forward to retirement. According to his family, Mr. Norris, enjoyed entertaining and often acted as the sous chef at dinner parties. Many of his friends said that he was the “grill master extraordinaire.” Mr. Norris also enjoyed traveling, playing the guitar, reading, yoga, watercolor paint and bridge. He was an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Steelers and Penguins, but his passion, according to his family, was golf.

“He was an avid golfer,” Mr. Carmean said. “I know he played two or three times per week.” In fact, Mr. Norris played golf throughout the country and abroad on courses such as Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, TPC Sawgrass, Adare Manor Golf Club in Ireland and the well-known St. Andrews Links in Scotland.

Mr. Norris designed and taught a studio course in Urban Planning at Salisbury University and was the instructor of Planning at Hagerstown Community College. He earned his Master’s Degree in Urban Regional Planning from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a thesis entitled “Statistical Variations in the Amount of Soil Conservation Practiced in Pennsylvania.” He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Slipper Rock University. He was a life member of the American Planning Association and was affiliated with the American Institute of Certified Planners, the Delaware Planning Association, the Urban Land Use Institute, the Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring and the George Washington Lodge #143, Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania.

A memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at Penn National Golf Club Inn in Fayetteville, Pennsylvania on June 6, 2015 at 3:30 PM. Tee times are available prior to the celebration. The family is asking that donations be made to The First Tee of Delaware, P.O. Box 419, Rockland, DE 19732. The organization is devoted to teaching life skills and leadership to youth through golf.

“Gary’s smile, laugh, giggle and infectious sense of humor will be missed and always remembered,” his family said.

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