Family and friends are mourning the loss of a real estate giant who forged the way for a multi-layered company based in Gainesville but stretching into other corners of Northeast Georgia.
“He was a builder,” Frank Norton Jr. said of his father, Frank K. Norton Sr., who died Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 92, after an illness. “He built communities, neighborhoods and a very connected family.”
Norton was the youngest son of W.L. Norton, who started the company in 1928. He joined the company in 1952, and with his father, “expanded the business’s focus beyond insurance to developing and selling residential communities throughout the area, as well as managing quality real estate properties,” according to The Norton Agency’s website.
“He didn’t really want the limelight, but he loved doing firsts — first golf course community, first condominium development on Lake Lanier,” Norton Jr. said in an interview Wednesday, Jan. 20. “He had a legacy of firsts. He didn’t mind being that pioneer, but he hoped others would follow his lead.”
The elder Norton also renovated the old Dixie Hunt Hotel on the downtown Gainesville square, turning it into an office building today known as Hunt Tower. Another of his achievements was a medical office complex now occupied by Longstreet Clinic at 725 Jesse Jewell Parkway.
Frank Jr. and his brother, Bob Norton, would later join the company, still holding positions today, with Norton Sr. later becoming board chairman emeritus.
But the elder Norton never lost interest in the business.
“Even in his last days, he was interested in what our rents were,” Norton Jr. said. “His mind was still going all the way to the end.”
“He was truly just a good man,” Bob Norton said. “The most important thing I took away from what others have told me about him was … he took a genuine interest in other people’s success.”
He agreed with his brother in that their dad “didn’t like the spotlight.”
“He was a special man to (others) because he mentored them, encouraged them and took interest in what they had to offer, what they had to say.”
Kit Dunlap, president and CEO of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, described Norton Sr. as “a gentleman, scholar and businessman who helped make Gainesville-Hall County the best place to live and work.”
“I always thought of him as one who never aged, one who always smiled, one who always listened and one who cared about his family and community,” she added. “We have lost a visionary leader.”