In the late 1960s, Henry Norton Jr. was what’s now called a “high-functioning alcoholic.”
He had a Harvard MBA and a high-powered investment career, having risen to vice president and director of J.M. Dain & Co., where he appeared in advertisements as “the face of Dain,” said his son, Peter Norton of Durango, Colo.
But at home, his son recalls arguments between his parents over his father’s drinking, and once seeing him passed out “when he was supposed to be taking care of us.”
Then, in 1969, Henry sought treatment. “It was a life-changing event,” said Peter. It was the beginning of 45 years of sobriety, and ultimately inspired his father to change his professional direction.
“He was very successful in the investment business, he was making significant money, and he could have made a lot more,” said Peter. “But his focus changed from making money to helping others. He started a second career and helped a lot of people in the process.”
Henry earned a certificate of chemical dependency counseling from the University of Minnesota, and left the investment field to work in the field of behavior therapy. In the 1980s, he founded Kelly-Norton Programs, which operates residential treatment facilities for adults with mental illness and/or chemical dependency.
Henry Norton died Dec. 26 at age 83, after a year-and-a-half battle with pulmonary disease.
He grew up in Wayzata and graduated from the Blake School in 1948 and Williams College in 1952. A nationally ranked tennis player in his youth, he was captain of the tennis team in both high school and college, and continued to to play throughout his life.
“He was a very kind man,” said Peter. “Low-key, quiet and generous.”
For almost 30 years, Henry owned and managed Kelly-Norton, which operates three facilities in the Twin Cities and employs about 50 people. “He made it successful as a program, providing much-needed care, and successful as a business enterprise,” Peter said.
One of the low points of his father’s life, according to Peter, was trying, unsuccessfully, to launch an additional treatment facility in Brooklyn Center in the 1980s. He’d bought an apartment building that he planned to convert to a group home. But nearby residents objected, and filed a lawsuit, and after a lengthy and contentious process, the county voted against his proposal.
“It cost him a lot of money and a hell of a lot of stress,” Peter said.
Before he retired in 2009, Henry helped his managers at Kelly-Norton purchase the company.
“In the social services industry, that doesn’t really happen,” Peter said. “My dad could have just sold the business, but he wanted to turn it over to the guys he’d worked with.”
Hugh Aylward, president of Kelly-Norton Programs, considered Henry a mentor. “I owe the world to Henry Norton,” he said. “He tried to inspire his employees, and he created opportunity for myself and others.”
As a person, Henry was “gracious and humble,” said Aylward. “He had a desire to give back, but he didn’t ask for a lot of gratitude or recognition.”
Away from work, Norton was “a lake guy” who loved boating and sailing, his son said.
“He had a home on Lake Minnetonka, and he’d invite clients for boat rides,” said Aylward.
After his retirement, Norton and his wife, Yvonne, settled in Chanhassen. In addition to his wife and his son Peter, Norton is survived by sons Jim Norton of Santa Fe, N.M., Henry Norton of New York City, Fred Norton of Evergreen, Colo., and four grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Kim Palmer 612-673-4784