Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Tribute to a True Role Model: Albert G. Norman, Jr.

Albert G. Norman, Jr., known to just about everyone as simply Al, has passed away. Although we can and should celebrate his long and accomplished life, it is also true that the world is just a little less intelligent and interesting without Al in it. 

I practiced for 25 years at two law firms where Al was a formidable presence, first at Hansell & Post (now Jones, Day) and then Long, Aldridge & Norman (later McKenna Long & Aldridge and now Dentons). When I started at Hansell & Post in 1982, Al was a senior partner and member of the Management Committee. In 1986, I followed Al and others to Long, Aldridge & Norman, where Al was, obviously, a name partner. 

Al was a truly phenomenal lawyer. His primary client was Atlanta Gas Light Company. He did complicated regulatory work for AGL. However, Al was also an expert in the field of libel law, handling notable cases in that area. It seemed that Al could pretty much do anything involving the law at a very high level.

Al's memory was extraordinary. About 20 years ago, Al asked me to help him with a section of a brief. I do not remember the precise issue, but recall it was one of those maddening issues where the answer seemed obvious, but on which it was difficult to find any case law. After a few hours of digging in the books, I found a lot of law that sort of circled the issue, but nothing really on point. I went into Al's office, which was then next to mine and about the size of an aircraft hanger, and told him the results were just not coming. 

Al then said that he recalled one of his law professors at Emory discussing a case involving a similar issue in 1957 (about 40 years earlier at the time). He said, "Let's take a look," which I momentarily found puzzling. He then proceeded to his bookcase and extracted an ancient 3-ring binder. He paged through it for about 30 seconds, and then said, "Yes, there it is," pointing to a case citation. Al had not only remembered a class from decades earlier, but had kept his class notes and was able to find the citation like he had taken the notes a week ago. The case was much closer to the point than anything I had found. Astonishing.

Al was a true gentleman. Courtly might be an apt description. He said hello to everyone and treated everyone, staff and attorneys, with respect. If I ran into Al, a typical encounter was like this: "Morning, Al. How is it going?" "I'm doing fine, John. I hope you are." I always liked that last part--"I hope you are"--and have borrowed it. 

In addition to his truly extraordinary breadth of knowledge regarding the law, Al was a man of many interests. He golfed, hunted and fished. When he became interested in a subject, he became immersed in it. He built a model railroad that took up a large part of his basement, literally hand-crafting almost all of it. 

His interest in golf seemed to wax and wane, but as his interest would grow, he often consulted me for advice. Al knew that--at that time at least--I kept up with every technical development on golf clubs, hoping technology would mask a lack of talent. I think Al was also looking for a magic wand. Although he would quiz me at length on various options, I think he always bought Callaway, a good choice. He once gave me a couple of classic MacGregor woods (real "wood woods") which look magnificent but are just too beautiful (and difficult) to hit. I think the last time he called me about golf clubs was five or six years ago.

Al was not a mentor because we did not work together closely enough and he never took me under his wing. I considered Al a friend, but not a close personal one. For me, Al was a role model: Someone to look up to and emulate, even though you could never quite get to that level.

We sure could use more people like Al, especially in a crazy year like 2016. Our national discourse has become shrill, coarse and disgusting on all sides. It seems that intelligence, careful analysis and courtliness have gone out of style. 

I'm going to think fondly and a little sadly about my friend and role model, and hope that his traits make a massive comeback.