Remembering Norm Chamberlain

by Virgina H Wright

With the passing of Norm Chamberlain, Southeast Seattle has lost one of its longest-serving and dedicated champions. Known by nearly everyone, he worked to improve the lives of people in the valley, through his professional work at the helm of Pioneer Human Services, directing its array of human services – in particular helping to open doors for persons suffering under the strains of alcoholism, drug addiction, and re-entry into society after incarceration. His volunteer work over the past several decades was well known and recognized in the community and beyond, and he was tirelessly committed to creating a safe and economically healthy community in Southeast Seattle.

Norm was a long-standing board member of the Rainier Valley Historical Society, and contributed tremendously to the foundation and stability of our organization, aligning his interest in the importance of local heritage with the work of our founder Buzz Anderson. Beyond a commitment to preservation of the past, he devoted time and resources to effecting change and securing a better future for our community. As President of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce he helped to renew a troubled business district, and his legacy lives on in the institutions and facilities whose formation he spearheaded, including the Southeast Seattle Senior Center, The Rainier Valley Cultural Center, and the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council.

“…he was a wonderful presence — supportive, positive, cutting through the baloney, moving us forward. He always offered to help in any way he could, and often he did this by hooking me up with the right people to talk to about a given project or activity — because he knew everyone in the Valley and everyone respected him.”– Mikala Woodward, former Executive Director, Rainier Valley Historical Society

The 1995 Seattle Times article, “Service A Way Of Life For Longtime Activist — He Helped To Renew Southeast Seattle,” highlighted this local hero and his community activism. From the article:

“For years, Chamberlain has been a major driver of renewal in Southeast Seattle. Sometimes that has meant leadership – former president of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, member of more than a dozen boards, committees and community councils in the past decade alone.

Sometimes it means extending financial help. He and his wife, Barbara, are noted for their giving.

But he also gets his hands dirty, clearing off parkland, painting out graffiti, repairing historic structures.”

Norm Chamberlain was a shining star in the recent history of Rainier Valley, and we will continue to appreciate the weight of his impact for many many years to come.

The featured photograph was taken by former photojournalist Denis Law, current Mayor of Renton. It seems to typify the Norm Chamberlain remembered by so many – a man equally comfortable sitting in a board meeting or piloting a lawn mower.

Norman Chamberlain’s  memorial service is Sunday 2:00pm, at Columbia Funeral Home.

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