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NUJ pays tribute to Bob Norris

12 October 2018

Tributes have been paid to Bob Norris, retired assistant general secretary and member of honour who has died aged 78.

News of Bob’s death was announced by the union's general secretary Michelle Stanistreet at the beginning of the national executive council meeting on Friday morning and in a tribute Michelle recalled Bob’s humour, enthusiasm, commitment and dedication to the principles of the NUJ. She said:

"Bob is one of our NUJ legends who, throughout his life-long membership, played an enormous role both as an activist and as an official during his service as assistant general secretary of the NUJ. Always keen to enlarge the NUJ family, Bob spent many years after he retired from work continuing to recruit and build strength and solidarity in our branches and workplaces. He will be much missed, and our collective thoughts are with his wife Pauline, their son Drew and wider family at this very sad time." 

Bob was in many ways an NUJ institution and took particular pride in the fact that he and Pauline were both members of honour. He had a special interest in education and training and was firm in his belief that education was key to the  promotion of journalistic diversity. He served on the board of the National Council for the Training of Journalists for 39 years, stepping down in November 2006. Through his involvement in the NCTJ he developed an incredible network of contacts across the media industry and was held in high esteem even by those who did not share his staunch commitment to trade unionism. 

Bob supported the writers in prison initiative with what amounted to missionary zeal and was a consistent advocate of what later became known as second chance education. He was also a relentless campaigner for media freedom. 

His record of service to the union stretched back to his early days as a chapel officer. In 1965, aged 25, he became the union’s youngest NEC member. He was closely involved in the union's attempts to merge with the IOJ and served on the IOJ’s national council.  

Bob also served as an industrial official over a range of sectors and brought to his work a degree of painstaking detail which was always appreciated by NUJ members. He served members in the book sector for 30 years and was proud of his part, with Anne Bolt, in achieving the UK Copyright Act 1988, when he was the union's freelance organiser.

As assistant general secretary, then the number 3 position in the union, Bob enjoyed the cut and thrust of union meetings but also enjoyed the social aspect of the role, being fond of beer, banter and good company. 

The union's conference, known as delegate meeting (DM/ADM), was his theatre and Bob played a starring role in debates, not least because of his acknowledged expertise of union rules and procedures. The NUJ cabaret was for years a highlight of the event and no cabaret evening would be complete without a sketch inevitably featuring Bob and Pauline. He loved poking fun at people - including himself, but Bob’s humour was never unkind or wounding.

He was a man of diverse interests and enthusiasms and despite failing health in recent years he indulged his passion for travel, enabled by the care and attention shown by Pauline.

Bob was noted for his sense of humour and often lightened the mood at DM. Writing in the Press Gazzette in April 2007 Axe Grinder noted a typical Norris intervention. He wrote:

"Spare a thought for recently retired NUJ activist Bob Norris. The recruiter of hundreds of impressionable students across the land and champion of all things NUJ is described in this year’s annual report as having been on the NCTJ board since the union’s inception. Norris addressed the conference floor in outrage: 'This is wrong, it is ageist and I want it changed. I have been a member for 100 years I’ve even been an NUJ member for 200 years, and I would like a correction.'" 

Many members have their own memories of Bob and we would welcome people to come forward with more stories and tributes, which will be published next week.

Seamus Dooley, assistant general secretary, added:

"Bob Norris was a journalist of rare passion and vision. He retained his sense of curiosity which, combined with his impish humour, endeared him to  NUJ members of all ages. Bob was committed to the promotion and protection of ethical standards and this was reflected in his work with the NCTJ. As a full time official and in his countless roles within the union’s structures Bob helped shape union policy and practices. He was at home at DM and enjoyed not just debates but the social events. Bob and Pauline were a feature of ADM sketches for many years and he took pride in Pauline’s pivotal role as chair of the standing orders committee (SoC). Theirs was an NUJ marriage and so many of us enjoyed their friendship as part of a wide and colourful extended clan."

Tags: , obituaries, obituary, member of honour, delegate meeting