Saturday, August 01, 2020
Jim Norman, the long-time “Voice of the Rams,” passed away in South Kingstown on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. He was the loving husband of Roberta Homan Norman for 61 years.
Born in Providence in 1935, he was the son of James Eli Norman, one of the first class of Rhode Island State Troopers, and Gladys Whitford Norman, an elementary school teacher at Matunuck School. Growing up in Perryville, Rhode Island, he spent time on the family farm as a child helping to raise chickens, pigs and chinchillas, selling eggs to neighbors, and listening to radio broadcasts of the Boston Braves. He was a civilian aircraft spotter during WW2, and even reported seeing a Japanese Zero plane flying over when he was on duty (it turned out to be a captured plane being flown to Quonset)! He was a graduate of South Kingstown High School, where he first started his training as a sports broadcaster, broadcasting basketball games into a tape recorder in the balcony of Fagan’s Hall in Peace Dale. To pay his way through college, he owned a clam cake and chowder stand at Roy Carpenter’s Beach that he and his sister, Barbara, ran during the summers until it was washed away by the 1954 hurricane.
Jim earned a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Rhode Island, and was active in his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, a member of the Sachems, worked as manager of the baseball team, editor of the student newspaper, manager of the radio station, and treasurer of the student senate, while simultaneously broadcasting basketball and football games on the college radio station. He was also a member of ROTC and upon graduation was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army and served several years on active duty, transitioning into Reserve Status spending his two weeks a year at the Pentagon in Washington DC in the public relations department until he retired as a Major many years later.
Upon leaving Active Duty, he earned a Masters in Radio-Television Communications at Boston University, where he was one of the first sports news broadcasters on Boston television.
His career at his beloved URI, his alma mater, began as a faculty member in the speech department in 1961, coaching URI’s General Electric “College Bowl” team that competed on CBS television with host Alan Ludden. He became the Sports Information Director in 1971, and broadcast the play-by-play for 1,286 consecutive football and basketball games on commercial radio, never missing a contest in 34 years. He single-handedly built the radio broadcast network for URI sports that continues to this day.
During his career, he received more than 60 major awards for his outstanding contributions in the broadcast and sports information fields, and was inducted into seven Halls of Fame in Rhode Island, including the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, the URI Athletic Hall of Fame, the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame, and the Rhode Island Journalism Hall of Fame. The Meade Stadium press box at URI is named in his honor; he was active in Words Unlimited, the Providence Gridiron Club and many other RI professional organizations; and was listed by the Providence Journal in 1995 as among the “Top 40 Most Influential Persons in Sports in the past 40 years in Rhode Island.”
Jim was a long-time member of Peace Dale Congregational Church. In the years where Berta was the chair of the Christmas Bazaar, he would help out as the cashier of the “White Elephant” sale, greeting everyone with a few words and his signature smile. He would lead grace at the dining room table during holidays and would always end with “and God bless all our active duty service members serving everywhere.”
Jim loved and lived sports. Whether it was coaching his daughter Laura on her softball team, teaching his son Jim how to pitch a baseball, teaching both his sons, Jim and David, how to play and love basketball and baseball, or attending his grandchildren’s sporting events and recitals, he included his family in his love of sports. His family were also included in his love of URI sports, helping him during his broadcasting and keeping statistics to be reported to the media and recorded officially for the NCAA.
Jim loved the many family and friend get-togethers where he would regale everyone with his wonderful stories (and if we were lucky, a taste of his famous clam cakes and chowder). Avid travelers, Jim and Berta camped across country twice, and traveled abroad with family and friends, including to such far flung places as China, Russia, Mexico and Europe. They and the family are lovers of Disney, visiting the Florida and California parks multiple times and “treating” the children and grandchildren to many trips to Disneyworld!
As Jim often would say in his broadcasts, “it’s been quite a run.” And that it has.
Besides his wife, Jim leaves his children, Laura Norman Wilkinson and her husband, Robert Steven Wilkinson, of Warwick, James Luther Norman and his wife, Carolyn Snow Norman, of Warwick, and David Whitford Norman of Kingston; his sister, Barbara Norman Fracassa of Snug Harbor; and his grandchildren, Abby and Libby Wilkinson and Jim and Katie Norman.
Burial with military honors at Quidnesset Memorial Cemetery will be private. A memorial service will be held in the future to celebrate his life.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Peace Dale Congregational Church, 261 Columbia St, Peace Dale, RI 02879 or University of Rhode Island Athletics (checks made to the URI Foundation, PO Box 1700, Kingston, RI 02881), with a note in the memo line for URI Athletics, or make a secure gift online at www.urifae.org.