Sunday, June 2, 2019

Halvern Lamar Norris (1896-1955)

From the Decatur Daily Review, April 9, 1941.

   If you are a follower of this site's Facebook page you'll remember that June begins a month-long theme of unusually named American diplomats, and the first to be profiled is Halvern Lamar Norris, an Illinois native who served several years as U.S. Vice Consul in Bangkok, Thailand and Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Following his return stateside Norris began a new career as an oil industrialist in California and continued to do business in that state until his death from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in 1955. The son of Ernest Norwood and Elizabeth (Foster) Norris, Halvern Lamar Norris was born in Patoka, Illinois on March 20, 1896.
  Little is known of Norris' early life in Illinois, excepting that he was later a resident of Effingham and would attend both the University of Illinois and Washington University in Missouri. Following the completion of his studies, Norris worked at the U.S. Veteran's Bureau in Des Moines, Iowa and in Washington. D.C. for an eight-year period. He first entered the foreign service in the early 1920s and by 1926 had entered into his first diplomatic assignment, that of consular clerk in Tokyo, Japan. He remained in Tokyo for several years, working under U.S. Ambassadors Charles McVeagh, William Castle, W. Cameron Forbes. 
  In 1932 Norris was designated as Vice Consul at Bangkok, Thailand and during his near six years of service in that country took special note of the humid weather, local architecture, lack of window glass, trade relations, and the declining tourist trade. This time abroad also saw Norris accumulate further knowledge in his study of languages, and by the conclusion of his diplomatic career was, in addition to his native tongue, fluent in Japanese, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Serbian.

From the Foreign Service Journal's 1936 photographic supplement.

   Returning to his old home at Effingham, Illinois in May 1938, Norris gave an interview on his career and his upcoming transfer to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now in Serbia.) Sailing for Europe on June 1, Norris served as vice consul in Belgrade until early 1941, and after his return to Illinois made note of Hitler's preying upon "the weaker nations of Europe". Remarking that the Yugoslavs would put up a fight if invaded by Nazi Germany, Norris stated:
"They are a sturdy and hardy people and will probably fight just as violently as the Greeks. Economically, the country has experienced great difficulties since its organization under the Versailles treaty. It is not as well equipped with armament as could be hoped."
  After he returned stateside Norris continued government work in California, where he taught Japanese language classes at military camps in the state. In the mid-1940s he became interested in the possibility of oil discovery in the Cuyama Valley, and, with two partners, began drilling oil wells in that area in 1946. The trio struck black gold, and within a few years time Norris founded the Norris Oil Co., and could boast of an oil field that produced "about 45,000 barrels a day." With his business office in Ventura, Norris continued to reside in that city until his death on January 11, 1955, at age 58. On that date, Norris was found dead in his office, a victim of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning which occurred due to a burning gas stove in his office, where all windows and doors were closed. Found slumped over a chair in his office, Norris' death was ruled accidental by the local coroner. A lifelong bachelor, Norris was interred at the Ivy Lawn Memorial Park in Ventura.

From the Decatur Daily Review, January 12, 1955.

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