William P. Norris

William P. NorrisWilliam P. Norris, a longtime resident of Ridgecrest and research chemist retired from China Lake, passed away on May 28, at age 92.

Bill was born to Harry and Mabel Norris in Pagosa Springs, Colo., and he spent his childhood in the ranching community of southwestern Colorado. Harry was a U. S. Forest Service ranger starting in the mid-1920s when rangers and their families lived out on remote districts year round. Mabel ran a household, tended animals and even marked trees for timber alongside Harry.

Bill attended school with his sister Mary in Bayfield, Colo. The small rural classrooms often shared a single teacher for multiple grades. His elementary and high school graduating class each numbered only 16. Although rural, Bill always felt he was a lucky kid, since his family had food and work during the Great Depression years.

After spending time at an airframe school in Denver and then at the Curtiss Wright engine school in Glendale, he enlisted and earned the staff sergeant rank in the U. S. Army Air Corps. During WW II, he served along the Aleutian Islands as a crew chief for the C-47.

The GI Bill enabled Bill to get a college education after his honorable discharge. He enrolled for two years at the Fort Lewis Branch of the Colorado A & M College, in Hesperus, Colo., and then earned a B.A. (1949) and Ph.D. (1952) in chemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Bill moved his family, wife Opal, daughter Patricia, and son Steve to California, where he had a position in postdoctoral research at UCLA, then was recruited to work at China Lake.

Bill loved chemical research. He worked on numerous research and exploratory development projects. He collaborated on 17 patents and earned eight single-author patents that enhanced munitions performance and safety.

He earned the Technical Director’s Award (1976) for a synthesis of hexanitrobenzene, the William B McLean Award (1986) for creativity and inventiveness in energetic materials research, the Team Award for contributions to the CL-20 R&D program (1993) and the Deputy Commander’s Award for R&D (1995) for the R&D of high-performance rocket propellants and explosives, He was a Naval Weapons Center Fellow (1990).

During his tenure with China Lake, he was awarded a NWC Senior Fellowship to spend a year (1968-1969) at UC Santa Cruz where he studied nucleophilic substitution reactions in aromatic compounds. During 1981-1982, Bill spent 18 months in a DOD (TTCP-subgroup W)-sponsored Scientist Exchange Program with the Australian Department of Defense, Materials Research Laboratories, at Maribyrnong, Victoria, Australia.

The China Lake experience included a lot of time outdoors. Bill was a rockhound, like so many China Lakers. He enjoyed river trips in touring kayaks, running the Colorado River through Cataract Canyon, the Grand Canyon and many rivers in Alaska. He participated in many backpack trips into the Sierra Nevada, in the Escalante Canyon of southern Utah, in southwestern Colorado and in Alaska with Scouts, family and friends.

He found fun and friendship for many years as a member of the Desert Dancers Folk Dance Club, where he met Naomi. As emcee, Bill was known to put together programs filled with lively, vigorous folk dances. He particularly enjoyed the Swedish Hambo and Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (RSCDS) set dances.

Bill was a member of the Over the Hill Track Club, where he found fellowship among others who pounded the pavement. Memorable runs included the Ridgecrest 24-Hour Team Relay, an older-than-60 relay team that ran around Lake Tahoe, numerous “Inyokern 10-Milers” and the 1988 Los Angeles Marathon in which he placed first in his 65-69 age group.

In later years he found comfort being part of the Parkinson’s Support Group.

Bill is survived by Naomi, his wife of 36 years; sons, Michael and Steve; daughter Patricia; sister Mary Wissler; two nephews Richard Wissler and Joseph Wissler, and their families.

Please consider making a donation to the Maturango Museum or the China Lake Museum. As he requested, no public service will be held.

Submitted by the family of Willliam P. Norris

Story First Published: 2013-06-05