Surrounded by family, Norris McDonald passed away peacefully on Sunday, November 26th, 2023. Norris will always be remembered by so many he touched in his life, and in the many articles, stories, interviews and anecdotes he created for print and other media.
Norris was predeceased by his mother Grace Dorothy McDonald; father J.A. (Al) McDonald; sister Jeanne (Barbara Jean) McDonald. He will live forever in the hearts of his wife, Susan Greene, sons Cameron (Sarah), Duncan (Alicia), and daughter Carolina (Lee), grandchildren Remy and Soleil Watson, and extended family.
Always the centre of attention, Norris shattered both the silence and darkness of the nightly wartime blackout drill in Toronto with his birth on November 19th, 1942. He recalled a wonderful childhood in Kapuskasing spending long winters playing hockey, and developing a lifelong love of sports of all kinds. Norris attended high school in Niagara Falls before receiving a BA Honours from Sir George Williams University in Montreal.
Prior to and during the pursuit of his degree, Norris worked for numerous small town newspapers in Ontario, gradually working his way up to the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Through his work, Norris travelled as a member of the press to cover all types of events and interview their protagonists: music festivals, sports, and most importantly, motorsports. He never forgot covering the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and returned as many times as possible. In addition to writing, Norris also photographed the action, including an iconic pit scene from another of his favourite tracks, Mosport (Canadian Tire Motorsports Park). Norris had no trouble interacting with big personalities and came from a musical family so it is no surprise that he played guitar and sang in Montreal’s folk scene, and even once in New York’s Greenwich Village. Despite being gifted at photography and music, Norris was primarily a storyteller who would rather be at the races.
Norris and his family moved to Kingston in 1976 and soon after he started working at the Kingston Whig Standard. He took advantage of his new location and began frequenting Supermodified races at the Oswego Speedway in upstate New York. By the mid-’80s he had his own car, #27, and he even drove for a short time before settling on being an owner. Around this time Norris started contributing more of his own writing to the paper. His ability to write an article the same way he told a story made his contributions unique and engaging. He could be personal, he was always opinionated, but he was never abrasive or offensive. He celebrated his community: everyone from local personas, his favourite restaurant (Morrisons), to a beloved family pet whom he touchingly eulogized. Norris was Chair for the Kingston United Way Campaign in 1994 before returning to Toronto in 1995.
Norris was a mainstay at the Toronto Indy where he also managed photographer access, and when possible he attended the Canadian Grand Prix. Norris also loved Nascar and the World of Outlaws sprint car series. Despite the larger commute required, he continued to be involved at Oswego and became a celebrated on-track announcer, riding around on the first response trucks and interviewing drivers, owners and track officials. One time Norris was attending a race in another state and someone overheard him and recognized his voice. “I had people coming from all over the stands to shake my hand, I couldn’t believe it!” he recounted.
Norris worked at the Globe & Mail and is credited with editing ‘The Morning Smile’ collection (1996), but soon returned to The Star. He became editor of the Wheels section which allowed him to continue to write, now with an emphasis on how wheels of all sorts tie us together. A typical article would begin with a great story followed by anything from a car review, to a spotlight on a young, otherwise unknown driver, or his beloved Aunt Jean’s impressions of electric cars.
Eventually, his many contributions were recognized and celebrated. He was the first journalist inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame alongside two of his heroes, Nigel Mansell and Paul Tracy. He was also inducted into the Oswego Speedway Hall of Fame and received lifetime achievement awards from Canadian Automobile associations. After retiring from editing at The Star, Norris travelled the world for automobile companies and drove cars through the Alps, Tokyo, Abu Dhabi, Canada, and all over his “second home”, the USA. He wrote about it all, often after yet another great story.
Despite devoting so much of his time to journalism and racing, Norris was a family man. He and Susan loved spending time together at home or out on the town. He always made time to support his kids in their various pursuits. No matter what, he found a way to meet at least once a week for brunch or a meal. He travelled to see his grandchildren in Kingston whenever he could. He always found a way to stay in touch. Norris loved the holidays and finally had to be coaxed to stop doing all the cooking in addition to entertaining! He read voraciously, mostly biographies of his heroes from all walks of life and consumed all media, particularly old movies and classic TV shows.
He packed a ton into 81 years.
A celebration of life will be announced as soon as arrangements can be made. A family service at York Cemetery and Funeral Centre will take place December 9th. To share a memory of Norris, please sign the online guestbook: https://mountpleasantgroup.permavita.com/site/NorrisMcDonald.html In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to your local United Way or a charity of your choice in honour of Norris.