The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • LETTER: Norris Dean Garnett was a great person

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  • Norris Dean Garnett (who lived from 1931 to 2010) was a good friend and classmate of mine from junior high through high school graduation in 1949.

    He was one of the brightest students in the school from junior high on to graduation.

    I know some of his history after graduation by the many conversations I had with him by e-mail and phone beginning in 1997, when we reconnected.

    What I write here is my best recollection of what he spoke of at those times.

    He joined the U.S. Air Force about 1951, during the Korean War and served with distinction there and in Japan during his enlistment period.

    He quickly become fluent in Japanese and possibly Korean. I understood he functioned as an Air Force interpreter much of that time.

    When his enlistment ended, he continued his education, which became very extensive.

    He then went to work for the U.S. State Department as an interpreter and to an extent, intelligence gatherer/operative. Later he achieved higher ranks, but I do not know his titles.

    He was stationed in many countries, including Moscow U.S.S.R.

    There, he recounted to me many youths were being taken from Africa to Moscow to attend Lumumba University. Norris became acquainted with several of them and tried to give them the truth about America to counter the propaganda being fed them.

    After several months, the Soviets became aware of what he was doing and declared him “Persona non grata,” and he was forced to leave. He then served with the Department of State in some African countries, in Sweden and other European countries, usually learning the languages there as well.

    He retired about 1990 from the Department of State and moved to Washington, D.C.

    He received many honors for his service to his country and the Department of State before and after his retirement.

    He lived there until his health declined as the result of a stroke in about 2000 and relocated to Culver City, Calif., in about 2005.

    I never regained contact with him. I regret not having been able to contact him again and possibly get further information of his exciting, interesting career.

    He wrote several articles and was working on a book he said he planned to title “Growing Up Black In Kansas” or something similar. I do not think it was ever published because the stroke he suffered left him partially paralyzed. He sent me excerpts by e-mail occasionally from the book he was writing, but I lost them in a computer crash several years ago.

    Norris was exceptionally bright and intelligent as a youth, always with a big smile, friendly and very gregarious.

    To me, Norris never expressed animosity toward Newton or its people for the acute discrimination practiced in those days against people of color or race.

    He did discuss some of his thinking on such matters but never with rancor. He remained a forgiving person all the time we corresponded.

    I know this for certain: People all over the world who knew him would agree he is a loss to humanity.

    Norris Dean was and is a credit to our country, to Kansas, to Newton, and to his family, all of whom helped shape him into the man he became.

    — Clyde Hall,

    Bonney Lake, Wash.

    NHS class of 1949

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