Longtime journalist Dee Norton, 76
His colleagues likened him to comic-strip character Dick Tracy for his habit of speaking out of the side of his mouth and his tenacity as a reporter. On the basketball court, he earned the nickname "Hacksaw," for his flying elbows. On the softball diamond, colleagues say, his bat was as powerful as his arm
Seattle Times staff reporter
His colleagues likened him to comic-strip character Dick Tracy for his habit of speaking out of the side of his mouth and his tenacity as a reporter. On the basketball court, he earned the nickname "Hacksaw," for his flying elbows. On the softball diamond, colleagues say, his bat was as powerful as his arm.
Whether it was in media-league sports, as a Seattle Times journalist or as a citizen-lobbyist, Dee Norton was known as a heavy hitter.
Mr. Norton died Sunday of a heart attack after a monthlong illness. He was 76.
Mr. Norton began his career in journalism in the 1960s at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where his mother and father both had worked as reporters in the 1930s.
Mr. Norton met his wife, Jackie, there and in 1968 joined The Seattle Times at the urging of the newspaper's then-police reporter Mike Wyne.
"He was a workhorse," said Times Assistant Metro Editor Nick Provenza. "Dee was a general-assignment reporter for many years and I had the good fortune to have been his editor for several of those years. A fly fisherman and an English sports-car buff, Dee had a hearty laugh and was a great all-around guy."
Executive Editor David Boardman said he believes Mr. Norton was the first Times journalist to belong to Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a widely respected journalism association that promotes watchdog public-service journalism across the globe. In subsequent years, The Times became a major force in IRE, with four of its staffers serving as presidents.
"Dee was the trailblazer, understanding that a reporter's job is not just to report what happens, but to work to find out why," Boardman said.
Over the years, Mr. Norton had various reporting positions at the newspaper.
"For much of the five years I spent as night metro editor at The Times, Dee was the night reporter," said John de Leon, assistant metro editor. "He was often called upon to rush out of the newsroom and chase down some interesting call that came over the police scanner at all hours of the night. He would just casually stroll out of the office, notepad in hand, no doubt comforted by the knowledge that he could smoke to his heart's content while out in the field reporting."
Mr. Norton grew up on Capitol Hill and played basketball at Garfield High School before going on to Washington State University.
Mr. Norton had three children and one grandson, C.J. In 1994, 3-year-old C.J. was killed when a diaper-service truck backed over him as he was riding his bike.
Mr. Norton and his family became tenacious lobbyists and fought the trucking industry to get the state law changed to require special mirrors on delivery trucks. The state law passed in 1998.
In 2007, the family got a similar federal law passed as well.
"Our family proved that citizens functioning as rookie lobbyists can change society, once they learn the whys and hows of a frustrating, less-than-user-friendly legislative system," Mr. Norton wrote in a 1998 Times story about his experience.
Former Times reporter Peter Lewis recalled Mr. Norton "played first base on a Times softball team. And that was a good position for him, because he was a big target.
"Plus you'd always rather throw to Dee than catch him, because he threw heavy balls that would burn your glove."
In 1999, WSU honored him with the Alumni Achievement Award for his work in journalism and community activism in getting "C.J.'s Law" passed. The Shoreline Chapter of Trout Unlimited gave him the 2004 Conservationist of the Year award for his work in helping to restore streams.
"He did so many things," said his wife, Jackie Norton, of Lake City.
"If he saw something and thought, 'This isn't right,' he was ready to go change it."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Norton is survived by his daughter, Jana Norton, of Lake City, and sons Scott Norton, of Edmonds, and Cam Norton, of Lynnwood. He is also survived by his sister, Nancy Baumgarner, of Anchorage.
A celebration of Mr. Norton's life will be from 1-4 p.m. Sept. 28 at Acacia Memorial Park, 14951 Bothell Way N.E., Shoreline.
Remembrances may be sent to Memorial/Honorary Gifts, Trout Unlimited, 1300 N. 17th St., Suite 500, Arlington, VA 22209-3801; or Food Lifelines, 1702 N.E. 150th St., Shoreline, WA 98155.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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