Wednesday’s unveiling of artifacts recovered from a northeast Hall County historic mill site likely would have delighted the late William L. Norton Jr.
After all, Healan’s Mill, which is undergoing restoration with the help of the county and a citizens committee, was one of his keenest interests.
“Gainesville would not be the place it is today without Judge Norton,” said Garland Reynolds, a longtime Gainesville architect leading the mill effort. “He preserved so much, as people in their haste to develop and redevelop have torn down so many things.”
Family, friends and former colleagues are mourning Norton’s death on Sunday, and they’re recalling his many accomplishments, which include preservations of Green Street and The Longstreet Society’s Piedmont Hotel.
“We’ve all been humbled by all that he’s done,” said his daughter, Martha Hodge. “How can one man do all this? He was just a force to reckon with.”
Well-known for his work in historic preservation, Norton, who was 93 when he died, also was a noted local judge, attorney and author.
He began a private law practice in Gainesville in 1957, specializing in corporate and tax law, including work with the Georgia Poultry Federation.
Norton later served as a bankruptcy judge for North Georgia from 1971-1986. He wrote a 13-volume work, “Norton Bankruptcy Law and Practice,” along with other regular publications, and conducted national seminars on the topic. He taught bankruptcy law at Emory Law School, where he was a graduate.
Norton also served as an officer in the Army during World War II.
“He had a stroke six years ago, but he was working up until he was 87,” Hodge said.
Norton loved reading, sports and travel, but those were just a few of his passions.
“He really did live life to the fullest,” his daughter said.
One his close friends was Abit Massey, longtime director and now president emeritus of the Poultry Federation.
“W.L. was such an amazing person, with so many accomplishments, that it is impossible to describe him in a few words,” said Massey, also helping to lead the mill restoration. “The results of his effective leadership and outstanding service will continue to bring benefits for many years to come.”
Also remembering Norton was Gov. Nathan Deal.
“I was fortunate as a young attorney to be in the law firm of which W.L. Norton Jr. was the senior partner,” Deal said in an email. “Judge Norton was a hard-working attorney and was later a well-respected federal bankruptcy court judge.
“He was also a recognized author and authority on bankruptcy law. Judge Norton was devoted to his wife and family, and was an active supporter of the Gainesville community. I will miss him as a friend and mentor.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville, 800 South Enota Drive, Gainesville.
“It’s going to be a celebration for a man who has just had an amazing life,” Hodge said.
She said her father outlived his closest friends, including Sidney O. Smith, a U.S. District Court judge who served 1965-1974 before returning to private practice.
And that made an impact on Norton.
“He was even saying, ‘I’m ready to go to heaven,’” Hodge said. “He and Sid Smith were so close, I have said they are up in heaven holding court. They’re having the best time.”