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Obituary: Roger Norris

04 February 2022

Reg Wright writes:

ROGER NORRIS was a librarian, bibliophile, local historian, supporter of all that is Durham, and friend to many.

He was educated at the Perse School, Cambridge, and read ancient and modern literature at Trinity College, Dublin. Here, between 1959 and 1963, he gained both his first degree and Master’s degree; these were followed by a diploma in librarianship at Sheffield University.

Before moving to Durham in 1966, where he remained until retirement in 2002, he had worked for a short time in the library at Kilburn Polytechnic, London, and, for a year, in the library at Edinburgh University.

In his employment as librarian of Durham Cathedral and Durham University, his colleagues recall his pleasant, always cheerful manner, his good team work, his patience with visitors, and his loyalty and protection of his staff, who all enjoyed working with him. Any troublesome visitors to the library were treated kindly but firmly, His colleagues’ only disagreement with Roger was the temperature of the office. This was resolved by Roger’s working in the large high-ceilinged refectory while the women remained in the warm office.

From the mid-’70s a gradual but significant change and development at the cathedral and the library started to take place. As Senior Verger and Visitors’ Clerk, I received requests for information from all over the world. My requests, which were in addition to his library work, were always welcomed by Roger, and each request was promptly dealt with. The numbers of tourists, groups, pilgrims, and visiting dignitaries were increasing, and Roger and the cathedral staff collaborated very successfully in these tours.

Throughout his working life and well into his retirement, he helped numerous authors in their researches, and his name is gratefully acknowledged in their published works.

He had time for all, and was always ready with encouragement. He continued to correspond with former students, some of whom were later ordained. All those who have corresponded since his death remember his many kindnesses over and above that expected of a librarian: for example, lending his car so that a German archaeology student could travel to Vindolanda, near Hadrian’s Wall.

Roger’s memory was phenomenal for people, places, and — before the advent of the internet — where to find information. A chance remark or discussion was invariably followed by a postcard, a book, or a photocopied article, delivered by hand or by post. The envelopes were frequently decorated with his characteristic style of green and red squiggles.

He is remembered as being good company, with a good stock of anecdotes, by many of those with whom he travelled on group holidays, and met at conferences or in the course of his work. “Church-crawling” days seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes, during which his scholarship and great knowledge of churches was enjoyed by many.

Several of his own works were published, including The Stained Glass in Durham Cathedral (1984, rev. 1995), A History of County Durham (with D. Pocock, 1990), and The Stained Glass of Durham Cathedral (with Neil Jinkerson, 2001).

He revised the History of St Margaret’s Church, Durham, where he was one time churchwarden, and contributed articles to journals published by the many societies to which he belonged. He gave talks on a variety of subjects — local, historical, ancestral — and usually illustrated with his own photography. Delivery of these talks continued into his early retirement.

Roger supported many charities, libraries, and educational establishments. He was especially involved with the Durham DAC, the Freemen of Durham, the Historic Churches Trust, the Architecture and Archaeology Society of Durham and Northumberland, and the City of Durham Trust. He was sometime chair, secretary, and trustee of all these organisations; they gained much from his academic knowledge, his encouragement, his dedication, and organisational skills.

Roger had no interest in material possessions. His friends and beloved books were much more important to him. In his retirement, he could be seen in his battered car, taking a friend to hospital or clinic appointment, shopping for the housebound, or hospital or care-home visiting. He took his godparent duties to his nine godchildren very seriously.

Roger had a truly unique character. He judged no one. He befriended at face value and always saw the best in everyone. His friends came from all walks of life, all ages, nationalities, faiths or none. Although very sociable, he was also a private, modest, and humble person. He lived by his motto “You cannot be too kind to people.”

Roger was received into the Church of Ireland as a student at Dublin University. He later became a member of The Prayer Book Society. This was reflected in the wording of his funeral service, which took place in Durham Cathedral on 11 January. Although latterly he did not attend church on a regular basis, he had great faith.

Roger Charles Norris died on 19 December 2021, aged 80.

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