Norman L. Whitney, 73, passed away on Tuesday, March 24, 2015, surrounded by loving family. Norm was born July 16, 1941 in Newton, Massachusetts to Norman and Barbara (Collins) Whitney. He spent his childhood in New England. He loved sports and fishing the jetties in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Norm and his wife, Maryann, would have been married 50 years in August. After many years of corporate life at Xerox, Norm devoted his life to ministry, serving in leadership roles at International Bible Society and Awana International. He spent his retirement years volunteering as Executive Pastor at West Ridge Community Church in Elgin. Even to his last days, Norm always took great pride in serving others, and he saw each moment with family as a chance to build into future generations. He is survived by his wife, Maryann; his children and their spouses, Jodi and Darren Niesley, and Tim and Jennifer Whitney; grandchildren Chelsea (Andrew) Stinson, Hannah Niesley, Jack Whitney, and Natalie Whitney; and by his younger siblings, Marjorie Whitney, Ruth DeWilde-Major, David (Susan) Whitney, Barbara (Len) Bernstein, and Jean (Joe) Vinci; and nieces and nephews.
“The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.” (Psalm 37:30)
Norm Whitney was a amazing man and a dear friend — a man of great ability but greater humility before the Lord. He loved the Lord and people well, especially God’s church. He was always eager to serve, always ready with a kind but challenging word, always generous, always gracious, fun to be with, and so zealous for Christ!
I met Norm right after I graduated from college. When I moved to the Chicago suburbs, I began attending Willow Creek Community Church. I met Norm when I attended a spiritual gifts class there. He was a leader in the ministry, and encouraged me to step up into leadership as well. I did. Over the next few years, I joined Norm’s small group (picture of us below), and followed him into ministry in Willow’s financial and “Spiritual Pathways” ministries as well.
Norm was a gifted leader and shepherd. God gave him as a gift to so many, including as a mentor to me personally. I was often blessed by his wise counsel and his Christ-like example, often challenged by him to draw near to God and trust Him.
Whether you can tell it or not, I’m the youngest person in the above picture. I was about half the average age of the group. In and out of small group, Norm was a spiritual father to me. He was quick to listen and offer needed advice. And I took every problem, fear, concern, victory, failure, and in between to him. I have so long in my life struggled with the fear of man — wanting everyone to think highly of me — and Norm was quick to assume the role of the one who could see through me. When others fell over themselves to tell me I was wonderful because I could score a reasonable paycheck or solve a hard problem, Norm was instead quick to ask about my heart, and to demand that Christ be first in it. He was simply too experienced with the lure of the world and the power of the human heart to deceive us to let me talk my way out of not giving God my heart in all things. His impact on my spiritual development in that regard cannot be overstated.
In 2004, Norm and his wife Maryann moved out East. Faith and I helped them move, but we were not as connected to them after that as we wish we had been. Even after they moved back to the area, we saw each other too seldom — both of us busy with work and ministry.
The list of things that I regret about my seeming willingness to sacrifice everything in my life on the altar of work over the last 20 years is very long. The crushing weight of that list, headed by God’s call to repentance and redirection, has driven me to finally make the changes God has called me to for a long time. So, for me, it’s halftime. I’ve written more about this elsewhere, but I mention it hear for two reasons. First, on this list is not staying better connected with Norm. But even though our breakfasts and coffees were less frequent than I wish they would have been, I treasured Norm’s friendship and continue to benefit from his counsel.
Secondly, as I make my own half-time transition, many of Norm’s reflections on his own experience, as well as his Christ-centered words of advice and encouragement, ring in my ears. Norm came to Christ later in life (in his 30’s), and God radically redirected his life from the business world into ministry. And I cannot even imagine how many people will someday find him in heaven and thank him for his obedience to Christ. There will be innumerable people in heaven because of Norm’s faithfulness and God’s work through him, and countless more will have been impacted by Norm’s tireless service for the gospel.
One of the last few times Norm and I saw each other, I was laying out what felt like 1,000 decisions that faced me in connection with potentially quitting my job as an executive and going to seminary. I remember so clearly… I was mid-monologue when he leaned back in his chair, glint in his eye, huge smile on his face (anyone who knows Norm can picture what I’m describing), and settled in to wait for me to finish my long list of “What do I do with…?” questions, having obviously already come to conclusion in his mind. I stopped in my tracks, “What?!” He said, “I was almost exactly your age when I left Xerox. You may think God needs [all the things I was fretting over], but He doesn’t. Just do what He tells you to do, and don’t be afraid.”
Amen. God help me, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. In fact, I’m writing this from the campus of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Norm wasn’t just wise, he was a great example, and a good friend. I pray that the second half of my life is as fruitful and pleasing to God as Norm’s was. All his fun, all his joking around, all his godly ambition to take new ground for the gospel, and all his passion to love God with all his heart and help others do the same. As a foolish, single, ambitious, obnoxious 20-something, I thought, “If I can become half the man this man is, I’ll have done well.” And I can say now, as a slightly-less-foolish 40 year old, I still believe that. I suspect that if God gives me another the 30 years, I’ll still be thinking of Norm when I make decisions about my career, or wrestle to find God’s heart for what “leadership” is (how many countless hours Norm and I spent talking about what “leadership” should look like in the church!), or being a mentor to another man. Again I say, it would be a worthy goal to approximate anything like the amazingly godly man that Norm was.
I love you, Norm. Thank you.
I will deeply miss my friend and I don’t think the tears are all behind me, but I also thank God for Norm’s life and, along with his family and the many others whose lives he touch, I celebrate him. I am overjoyed that he is home with the One he loves, and I can assure you that Norm is having an awesome day today. I can’t wait to see him again!
Our hearts and prayers — my wife’s and mine — go out to Maryann and the rest of Norm’s family. God’s peace and comfort be with you! We know you are surrounded by a loving church family and many friends whom your lives have touched. We are praying for you all.
For more about Norm’s life and the official tribute page, sponsored by his church family, check out the official Celebrating the Life of Norm Whitney page at West Ridge Community Church.