Remembering Dr. Arlie Norman

Dr. Arlan Norman, beloved friend of our Museum, passed away Saturday, July 31, 2021. This sudden loss has left many of his friends and admirers feeling stunned and in mourning.

Arlie first joined our Museum’s Board of Directors in 2008,  becoming Board Chairman in 2014, and holds the distinction of being SPARK’s longest serving board member. Arlie was a life-long science educator, and retired from his position as founding Dean of the College of Sciences and Technology (now the College of Science and Engineering), at Western Washington University in 2011.

That summer we were invited to a celebration at the University, in honor of “Dr. Norman,” (better known as “Arlie” to his legion of friends and colleagues), who was retiring, and saying goodbye to the College he founded and established. Arlan was beloved by many, and his retirement from a career in academia was a big deal, not only to the school, but to the community as well.

The room was packed with well-wishers, many, of course, associated with the University, though not just colleagues and faculty, but scores of technicians, administrators, interns, students, and a wide variety of school employees. The rest of the guests were members and representatives of the community, the many people and organizations Arlie had supported.

It was a fantastic gathering, with many of us meeting for the first time—all sharing stories about our humble Guest of Honor.  Everyone seemed to have a memorable moment or encounter to share about Arlie, and lined-up at the podium to say so. Person after person spoke, often emotionally, about the impact Arlie had made on their lives both professionally and personally.

Stories in the classroom, stories at the grocery store, or in the parking lot with his VW minibus—he was a mentor, friend, and fellow traveler to so many people. They each thanked him for his leadership, his candor and good humor, and wished him well in this new phase of his life. There we were, our faces beaming in agreement at the exceptional, unassuming human being quietly standing before us.

When Arlie finally got up to speak it was with the gentle good humor and grace he is known and loved for. We listened, laughed and were moved as Arlie thanked everyone for everything.  He closed saying he planned to devote his  time to family, friends, and “my community interests and the next phase of my professional activities.” Thankfully, one of those professional activities was to  guide the SPARK Museum’s board of directors into the future.

Arlie officially became the Museum’s Board Chairman in 2014. “New Board Chair Offers Electrifying Leadership” states the headline of Currents, the Museum’s Spring, 2014 newsletter. The issue features a wonderful picture of Arlie, seen interacting with an oversized plasma globe, smiling broadly as he waves at us with an illuminated hand. A memorable photo taken at a memorable moment.

“One of the best days of my life was the day Arlie became our Board Chair,” says John Jenkins, President & CEO. “Having someone of Arlan’s stature and experience guiding our Museum was a dream come true. It solidified our relationship, and is something I will always cherish.”

Arlie was a tireless advocate for science education not just in the classroom, but in the community as well. “Arlie wanted SPARK to play an important role in support of science education,” remembers Jenkins. “He saw us not just as a museum, but a vehicle to engage young people in the wonders of science and invention.”

The SPARK Museum is proud and gratified to be a part of Dr. Norman’s legacy, and offer our heartfelt condolences to his wife Diane, children Hilary & Geoffrey, and five grandsons; and to his sisters Doris and Twyla.