Norman's missionary parents used to delight in telling a story of their son growing up in Chongqing, China, in the 1930's. His father, James Endicott, had been invited by the Chinese government to teach Christian ethics to a group of communists being held in jail. After a Christmas concert by the missionary children, six year-old Norman, who had been doing some thinking, asked his parents as they walked out of the jail: "Do Communists try to help the poor people?" "Yes," they answered. "Well, isn't that what Christians try to do?" "Yes, certainly," was the reply. "Then," he wanted to know, "why are the Communists in jail and you aren't?" That was the kind of quick, questioning mind that Norman had throughout his life.
Norman boarded at the Canadian School in Chengdu for a number of years during the time when Japan was attempting to conquer China from 1931 to 1945. Since the Japanese bombers were able to penetrate into Sichuan province with ease the school moved frequently, from city to village to mountain top as the anxious missionary parents sought to save their children from harm. This experience not only opened the eyes of the young Canadians to the brutal ways of modern imperialism (it is estimated that 35 million Chinese died in the war to resist Japan) but also allowed them to get closer to the lives of ordinary Chinese than was usually the case in sheltered missionary compounds. Norman always said it was his experiences growing up in China that convinced him that capitalism could never solve the problems of the poor and oppressed. He maintained a life long belief that socialism would triumph eventually, as it was the only way to resolve the conditions of economic depression and war that capitalism inevitably created.
By the time Norman returned to Canada with his parents in 1941 he was already a keen debater, intensely interested in all that was going around, especially the war against fascism. There used to be a saying by those close to him that 'when Norman enters a scene you can feel an East wind blowing.' The Endicott household rang with debates about capitalism, democracy, Marxism, socialism, the Soviet Five-Year Plans, the meaning of the battle of Stalingrad. After completing high school in Toronto in 1943, at the age seventeen, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as well as the communist party of Canada (then known as the Labour Progressive Party). Rejected for air crew because of faulty eyesight, he worked as an aero-engine mechanic at air bases in England. It was while there that he met and married Private Kathleen Fouracre of Somerset and brought her home as a war bride.
Following the war Norman entered Victoria College of the University of Toronto, graduating with the silver medal in philosophy. With the McCarthy era in full swing he was not able to pursue an academic career any further. Instead, he studied law at Osgoode Law School, which led him to being called to the bar in 1954 and an illustrious career in law lasting almost 35 years. There were tumultuous times. His daughter Suzanne recalls the cast of interesting and diverse clients, especially the crooks and capitalists she met while working in his office. "These were the clients who paid the fees," she said, "provided the income for his political cases."
His political cases included challenges to arbitrary immigration laws, police bullying and beating prisoners, municipal zoning, environmental poisoning, the struggle for Canadian unions, the right to picket during strikes. Charles Campbell, (of Isler & Campbell) who began his legal career working in Norman's law office, tells of the skills he learned there while watching his energetic, resourceful, imaginative, persevering boss at work. Such was Norman's courtroom reputation, says Campbell, "that when he retired many of us felt we should have been addressing 'Mr Justice Endicott'." Campbell credits Norman with being one of the ones instrumental in getting The Law Union started, a loosely organized association of progressive lawyers, mainly in the Toronto area. The younger lawyers needed to know more of the traditions, outlook and achievements of the older Communist Party lawyers, and "Norman was the one to bring them together from across the country for a session that got the union going." Dan Heap, former Toronto alderman and Member of Parliament, recalls a court case arising out of his arrest in the bitter Artistic Woodworker's strike led by Madeleine Parent. Norman appealed for prominent Torontonians to join the picket line and Dan responded. Later that day Dan found himself in a Toronto police cell being allowed one phone call. His captors got Norman on the line for him and Dan said, "I've been arrested!" "Good," says Norman. "I'll be right over." "This isn't exactly the kind of response you expect to get from your lawyer," exclaimed Dan, "but it was the way Norman helped turn a supposed picket line technicality into a political issue of worker's rights, putting a dramatic arrest to full account that would gain media attention."
Norman was also a member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. His efforts with this group to investigate and expose the brutal prison conditions of the Salazar dictatorship resulted in him being expelled from Portugal in 1965.
In 1981 Norman married Caroline Walker and together they took a hand in Canadian book publishing, putting out scores of titles through NC Press. Among Norman's favourites were Milton Acorn's poetry, Kenneth Cameron's biographical Stalin: man of contradictions, and the Reminiscences of Tim Buck. At a party to celebrate his 75th birthday a few years ago Norman reflected on areas of our history that are subject to distortion or doctoring in the way we learn about and understand them. He felt that the contributions of Mao Zedong, of the Cultural Revolution in China, of the communist parties in Canada and elsewhere and of Stalin have been mystified, covered over or distorted. "Someday," he said, "that will be challenged and changed." He had an abiding belief in the laws of history and the power of class struggle.
Throughout his career Norman kept in touch with China, worked to open the door for friendship and trading relations with the People's Republic and for understanding of its revolution. To this end he was a founding member of the Canadian China Society in 1971 and he established a trading organization with annual missions to accompany Canadian businessmen to the Guangzhou (Canton) Trade Fair. In 1958, on the invitation of Premier Zhou Enlai, he led a group of Canadian lawyers, including Ted Jolliffe, to China on a fact finding trip.
In his later years, after 1986 when he was sixty, Norman struggled with Multiple System Atrophy, an illness not unlike Parkinson's disease. This was a painful and often despairing time but he struggled to live as normally as he could for as long as he could. He participated in the Socialist Studies meeting at the Calgary Learneds in 1994 and fulfilled a life-long dream of spending an extended period of time in China when he went there with Caroline who taught in Chongqing in the early 90s. When the illness became too difficult he moved to the residence at the Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital were he spent his last five years. Throughout this time he kept up his poise and determination, pursuing his intellectual interests as strength permitted. He succumbed to pneumonia on 22 February 2005.
Norman is survived by his wife, Caroline Walker, son Eric and daughter Suzanne, grandsons John and Paul Fairley, stepson James Perly, former wife Kathleen Fouracre, brothers Stephen and Philip Michael, sister Shirley Endicott Small, George Huang and family in Beijing and many cousins, nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life was held on 13 March 2005 in Toronto. - Stephen Endicott ©