A quote from a book, Tuesdays with Morrie, seems fitting at this time “Death ends a life not a relationship.”
We were very fortunate to have had a relationship with Norm.
We all felt that we were the one special person in his life. It is difficult to describe that special essence that made each of us feel that way. One friend has said that he thought that Norm was his and his alone.
Norm somehow connected with the person inside each of us. One teacher said that he recognized her personhood, that he was her own private cheerleader. She recognized however, as many of us did, that Norm was like that for everyone. He had the ability to move people to believe in themselves, that they were important, that it was okay to be themselves because they were wonderful in their own right. In fact, he somehow made them feel they were the smartest person on earth!
Norm understood more than anyone that learning couldn’t and didn’t happen unless a relationship had been established. He demonstrated this, everyday in his work with kids, with teachers, with parents and with every person with whom he worked. He knew that it was all about relationships.
Norm had an enormous influence on people worldwide; from the tiny state of Tasmania, Australia, to Papua New Guinea, to New Zealand, to Surrey and to the far corners of British Columbia. Norm was truly a marvellous person; he played an influential role in so many lives.
Norm made things happen.
Throughout his years in the School District, Norm was a catalyst wherever he went and in whatever job he assumed. In 1991 the Board wanted to create an alternate program in Fort St James to address the needs of young people who were not having success in the regular secondary school. The Board knew it needed somebody who could “break the mold”; somebody who wasn’t afraid to think outside the box. Enter Norm Wicks. The Enterprise Center is still operating today and many of the students who graduated while Norm was there are doing well and are contributing members of their communities. Two young women are teaching at the Headstart Program and another graduate is working as a Fishery Technician and another in Security – all within their own communities. All of these people say they would never have made it without Norm’s encouragement. He was always there for them. Whenever anyone was sad Norm always tried to put a smile on his or her face. His students said that no other teacher cared as much as Mr. Wicks did. He was there for them and took great pride in their progress. As one parent stated in an open letter to the editor, ”With God, all things are possible and I believe Norman has the gift of knowing that nothing is impossible once you put your mind into doing it.”
Norm continued to “break the mold” in the many roles he played as he moved throughout the district: as vice principal at NVSS, as First Nations Education Coordinator, as principal at both Mapes and McLeod Elementary Schools and lately as the district staff officer in charge of our school district data project.
Norm was a VERY different vice principal. One of the reasons he chose NVSS was to learn from Bruce Smith. Bruce’s comment years later was, “Well, he might have learned the ropes from me but he had his own way of doing things and we all learned from him!”
Norm had great compassion and integrity. He had the ability to make everyone he worked with feel special. He made a huge difference to so many kids. Above all else the kids knew he REALLY cared.
One day he had half a dozen students lined up outside his door waiting to see the vice principal because they were in trouble. He finished with one student only to walk out and see a few more. He turned around, walked in and picked up his candy jar and brought it out and then proceeded to give each student a candy. A teacher noticed this and said, “Hey, what’s going on? These kids were sent here because they’ve been in trouble. Why on earth are you giving them candy?” Norm turned and said, “ Well, if they have their mouth filled with candy, they can’t talk - can they?”
He was a VERY different Vice Principal – it was only later that teachers realized that he disciplined with love – not authority. It made a huge difference for kids and perhaps more significantly a huge impact on teachers with whom he worked.
Another time he came upon a rather unhappy young man waiting for him at the office. Norm said to him, “It looks like you’re having a bad day.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of change, about 55 cents worth and said to the boy, “ Here, how about I give you 55 cents. Would that help you have a better day?” To which the boy replied, “Yes!”
Another time when he was dealing with a student who had stolen something from another student, his question was, “Why on earth would you do it? Did you do it because you liked him?”
He had a way of totally disarming people. His sense of humor and his uncanny way of identifying some defining character trait in the person he was working with helped win people over. Norm could always be counted upon to be a creative problem solver. He always provided kids with a way out. He had a way of letting the kids know that he knew they were in trouble but that it was okay because in the end life was all about learning and that we all learned from our mistakes.
Each and every person was a worthwhile human being. He never separated people into categories, titles or cliches; everyone was important; everyone’s contribution was valuable.
Norm left NVSS and headed off to Tasmania to do his doctorate.
Here too he had an impact. He conducted a remarkable study of leadership in indigenous school communities. He examined three Maori schools in New Zealand, aboriginal schools in Northern Territories Australia and First Nations Schools in Canada. The examiners described his thesis as BRILLIANT.
Upon his return he went to Mapes – willing to try something he had never done before – work with primary aged kids. It turned out to be one of his most cherished experiences. Mapes was very special to Norm.
One of our favourite stories about Norm took place just after he arrived at Mapes Elementary School and all the teachers were getting ready for Halloween. They were talking excitedly about theme day and the need for lots of good centres. Well, Norm was new to working in a primary school but was very willing to do whatever he could do to help out and so he offered his help and was told, “Great, you can be in charge of such and such centre.” He replied, “What’s a centre?” This was his introduction to primary lingo and he quickly took up the challenge and ran a centre of games - just as if he knew what it was about all the way along.
Throughout the years at Mapes there has always been an outdoor ice rink.
Norm took it upon himself to be the ice maker. He would diligently get out the hose and flood the rink taking great pride in ensuring it was smooth and ready for the kids to skate on. It would be minus 20 and Norm would be out there flooding the rink. If the ice had a chip or hole in it, he’d be out mending the surface to make sure it was safe. Staff would always give him a hard time about what a tough job he had when it was in his job description to maintain and flood the rink instead of staying in his office and doing paper work.
This past year Norm bought a dozen crazy carpets for the kids so they could have fun at recess and noon. He also bought a dozen small snow shovels – busy kids were happy kids! Education to Norm happened in more than just the classroom. He knew that an environment where there was a lot of fun and laughter was conducive to learning,
Norm would often phone his sister once or twice a week – (sometimes more!) just to brag about the kids at Mapes or have her listen to a student singing or for her to hear what was going on in the gym. Norm regaled us all with stories about the fun he was having at Mapes.
He was so proud of the staff, students and parents and the changes that were happening at the school. In the three years he was at Mapes the school went from being one of the lower performing schools in the district to being the highest performing rural school during this past year. He gave all the credit for this improvement in learning to his staff, the parents and most importantly, the students!
One of Norm’s favourite memories happened in his first year at Mapes just after the first snowfall. All the kids were outside making their first snowballs of the year. Norm made the mistake of teasing them by throwing one rather gently at a group of boys’- kindergarten to grade 3’s - that he knew rather well. You can imagine his surprise when they all (10 of them) turned around, pelted him with snowballs and jumped on him! He deliberately fell to the ground and they pounced on him. Later when he was telling us the story he said he felt a bit like Gulliver with the Lilliputians.
Norm was not afraid to be silly or to use humour to win over a situation. Fraser Lake Elem. still swears that Norm deliberately planted a goat on the cross-country trails just to distract their runners in an infamous District X-Country run held out at Mapes.
Norm had dignity but was certainly not dignified. Nor did he stand on his dignity. He was known for dancing down the hallways at Mapes Elementary School to the great delight of all his students who thought he couldn’t dance at all. Whenever you saw him out on the playground he always had kids – 2 or 3 or sometimes even more of them at a time, hanging onto his long legs. One day this past September when he was outside at McLeod Elementary School at noon, one of his former students from Mapes ran up and hugged him on the legs. Her mother happened to be there and he turned to her and said, “Gosh, Yvonne, you’re going to have to tell your kids to stop hanging off me, it was okay at Mapes where there was only 47 kids but I really don’t think I can handle it at McLeod where there are 270. My legs aren’t quite long enough.” He was like the Pied Piper - he’d enter the school and the kids would leave their desks and head out to meet him. At recess and lunch he was always out on the playground literally playing with kids, having fun.
In September of this year, Norm took on additional responsibilities when he added the principalship of McLeod Elementary School to his list of responsibilities. People there were just beginning to know him and love him – they too felt the tremendous influence of Norm. They knew he had a vision for McLeod and were excited about working with him. And yes, there too, the kids hung off his long legs. Not long after he was at McLeod and had just finished a busy noon hour out on the playground, he walked into his office with Allan Whidden and shut the door and said, “ Allan, I’m having so much fun, I just love this and do you know I actually get paid for this?” We’ve all heard him say it. And he meant it.
Norm had his doctorate of education and so had every right to be called Dr. Wicks. But Norm was the most un-doctorlike doctor of all doctors of education we know. He certainly never brandished the title. Little did we know that he, in fact, quite proudly took advantage of the title! Not too many weeks ago a young boy in grade one was hurt on the playground and wanted Norm to see his “Ou-ie”. In all seriousness, Norm leaned over to have a look and said, “ Oh, that’s terrible, let me see….mmmm….did you know I was a doctor? Come with me and we can fix you up”. He went with Norm for the next ½ hour was Mr. Wick’s special buddy, walking around with him while he did the rounds of the school. When he returned to the classroom and the teacher asked him how he was doing, he replied, “Oh, I’m so much better.”
Norm understood what it meant to be a doctor.
Norman inspired those around him. He brought out the best in people. As several teachers put it, “He made me feel like a competent teacher.” Norm made everyone feel like an equal and that he was more of a friend than a supervisor. He never hesitated to ask anyone and everyone for advice - parents, custodians, teacher assistants, or teachers. Everyone was treated respectfully - everyone was important. He was so straight with everything, so honest, so sincere with no pretenses at all. When asked for advice by a teacher who was having a difficult time dealing with difficult situations his advice was always, “Be real with your kids, let them know who you are and what you care about.” With that advice he changed teachers lives, and through that, the lives of kids. Everyone wanted to do his or her very best.
Yes, this past week many stories were told and retold about Norm as we all reached out to hold him. He was one of the top educators in northern BC; he was a highly educated, articulate and sensitive teacher. He was always there for anyone who needed him.
Norman was a person who loved life. One could find him in the backwoods, honing his flyfishing skills or standing in front of an international audience presenting theories on leadership. His connection to people, and with a world that he loved so much, came from a great passion for life and learning.
Norman was his own person
Whatever he did, he did it because he loved it whether it was teaching, fishing, riding his Harley, cutting wood or listening to his favourite CD - he revelled in life – he would often say how much he loved his life and weren’t we all so lucky to be doing what we loved best?
Norm loved to philosophize – I can see him now – one arm across his chest the other one up to his face with his fingers along side his cheek – saying
“Gosh…. what do you think?”
Family was important to Norman. The tragedies of losing both his parents and his two brothers, Wade and Stephen, in recent years, brought great sadness, but also moved him to value every moment and all the richness that life can offer. He valued his time with Joyce, family and those he cared deeply for.
Many years ago, these words were spoken of Norman’s youngest brother Wade when he passed away: “If he has left a legacy, it is one of courage and spirit, with the knowledge that all of us can pursue and achieve our dreams despite life’s challenges. And that we can smile in our pursuit.” Norm carried this legacy in his heart. He lived life large and wanted us to do so as well.
The words Norm spoke at his brother Steve’s memorial are words that he lived by: “Remember that life is short. Don’t waste it. Don’t take small bites. Swallow life whole. Devour Life. Be all you can be. Be larger than life.”
As Dr. Reynold Macpherson , a friend, mentor and teacher of Norm’s said, “Norman was one of the finest intellects I ever knew and a gentle and compassionate leader who could make people learn and laugh. We are all the richer by having known him and all he represented.
I will close by doing my best with a short Maori prayer that was sent by Reynold, Norm’s friend and mentor in New Zealand to be read here tonight:
Na reira hoa ma
Haere, haere, haere ki te po
Haere ki te hui te kahurangi.
Farewell dear friend.
Go peacefully into the night.
Join the gathering of our most precious.