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Thomas Edward Norton (Tom)

Died: January 21, 1967

In high school, Tom was president of his senior class at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, NY, advertising manager of the ’62 Yearbook, a member of various school choirs, and piano accompanist for the senior play, Babes in Arms. He was also on the Debate Team and president of Methodist Youth Fellowship. He was a transfer from Oberlin College in his sophomore year. He died January 21, 1967.

Michael Crutcher remembers:

I roomed with Tom our sophomore year in Branford. Bob Haverfield was our third roommate. Tom, as a transfer student from Oberlin, was assigned to our room so this was our first meeting.

Tom was an earnest kid who worked hard as a pre-med student but found it difficult to socialize. But he enjoyed a good joke and had a hearty laugh. He was altogether a fine roommate, but he felt out-of-place at Yale; he said to me once, “I don’t belong here, I belong back in Ohio plowing a field behind a horse.”

Our junior year he lived across the hall with other roommates. It was then that he made his first suicide attempt. I ran to his room after hearing the shouts from one of his roommates. He was unconscious. I called the Campus Police and went with him in the ambulance to the hospital. The Rev. William Sloan Coffin showed up at the hospital right away. (How did he know? Telepathy?) He was a calming influence who did a lot to steady my nerves. Tom was in the operating room and after a while I left, while Coffin stayed.

I later learned that Tom had inner demons. He never discussed them with me or anyone else, at least then. He didn’t suffer from just homesickness or unease; he had far greater mental burdens to bear, and ultimately they proved to much for this likable and gentle young man.

Michael Chusid remembers:

Tom was a quiet guy who kept to himself. He was on the Branford College House Soccer team with me for a year or two. I believe it was the fall of our senior year (’65) or possibly ’64, but we had an important game near the end of the season, fighting for first place in the league. Tom didn’t show up for the late afternoon game, but I didn’t think much about it, because that happened all the time due to conflicting classes and labs. Two or three days later I was working in my volunteer position as a Yale Aide at Yale New Haven Hospital and was asked to move some equipment from one patient room to another. The room I entered first was dark, and I didn’t even look at the patient in the bed as I went to get the equipment to move, when all of a sudden, this voice from behind me asks, “Hey Joe, did we win?” When I looked around, there was Tom, lying in bed. I later found out he had made a suicide attempt/gesture and had been admitted to the medical unit for treatment. I never saw him again.

Robert White remembers:

Tom Norton joined our class in sophomore year, a transfer from Oberlin. He struck many in Branford as a bit intense, socially slightly awkward, but nevertheless friendly, very smart, and quite likable. He became my roommate junior year. The four of us who shared the suite became good friends.

He had a Ducati motorcycle and once, late on a very chilly afternoon, made a trip to Vassar with another classmate as a passenger. To protect themselves further from the wind chill they each used shirt cardboard inside their jackets. It must have been a cold journey to Poughkeepsie, and a freezing one on the way back.

One of the things I learned about him very soon was that his father had committed suicide ten years earlier. There were dark issues he was dealing with, and it was not obvious how much he was troubled by them. One of his favorite musical pieces to play was “The New World Symphony.” I didn’t read anything into that choice until later. One afternoon Tom attempted to take his life. A quick discovery and emergency care at Yale-New Haven saved him. After recovering he became an in-patient at Yale Psychiatric Institute, and for a while I visited him almost every day. His recovery was slow but seemed steady.

The months passed; junior year turned into senior year; and while Tom was getting ongoing care, our class graduated. One year later I returned to New Haven to pay him a visit at an apartment he was renting. We had a long chat; he seemed to being doing well, and I said goodbye, wishing him all the best. It was some days afterwards that I learned he had succumbed to his demons, and maybe those of his father, finally succeeding in going to that new world of Dvorak’s symphony.

Tom Norton’s life and passing made a deep impression on me. I felt the frailty of the human condition, the near-impossibility of knowing what even a good friend might have in the back of his mind, and how easily a fine fellow, with a twist of DNA or a mind haunted by dark visions, can come to such a sorry end.