On October 2nd, 1942, in the small town of Cecil, Pennsylvania, Norman Brady came into the world. Legend would have you believe that Norm and his friends were quite the bunch of hellions, however further examination of this man would show that he was a study in extremes. He was a force and little would ever stand in his way.
When his father presented him with a deluxe model, Schwinn Black Phantom bicycle, he stripped all of the chrome and fenders off of it, and why? To make it faster and well, cooler. As teenagers, he and his cronies built a go cart, and while many would think a lawn mower engine would be sufficient, they opted for twin chain saw engines. Decades later, old ladies in Cecil still told a story of the god awful sound the engines made as they pushed the go cart to operate at nearly 70 mph. As an adult, Norm joined the Air Force and moved west. He befriended fighter pilots, lived with Major League baseball players, and even interviewed with the CIA. Of course he turned down the CIA because, as he told me, living on a mountain for 2 years just didn’t sound like fun to him. After the Air Force, he worked for North American Aviation on the Space Program. He worked with the Apollo program as a quality inspector for the heat shield. While doing that job, he and his young wife, Janice, moved all over the country and in each location Norm would insist that they savor every last drop of the local culture. When in West Virginia, he would go coon hunting with the locals all night, and go fishing in the mountain streams whilst drinking moonshine. In New England, he would dig clams, go deep sea fishing, and become obsessed with antiques. The word ‘obsessed’ is not used lightly in this case; as I said earlier, Norman was a study in extremes. Most men find a hobby, and they dabble in things. Norm had no interest in dabbling. Norm became a student of the antiques, would spend hours talking and picking the brain of antique dealers all over New England. He was so involved that he would soon become an authority. This theme carried on throughout his life.
When Norm and Janice finally settled in Wisconsin, he worked several jobs while getting his college degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. During that time he started hearing the “Lore of the Mighty Musky”. Norm had no time, nor interest, to go fishing for anything biggest and most elusive of fish. The Musky fit that bill for him, and once again he became obsessed. He joined the Musky Club, and once again became a student; reading books on Musky fishing, reading books on the lifecycle and biology of this great fish. He would later torture his children by drawing them out on lakes that were nearly frozen (we literally had to bring shovels to break the ice so the boat could move thru what there was of water). Meanwhile the rest of the Musky Club was back at the lodge, drinking beer and playing cards. He would again become a respected authority. When he eventually built a vacation home on a lake, he did not look for a lake with a nice sandy beach for the kids to play on, No! Instead he opted for a lake that was a good hunting ground for the Musky.
After working for Durant as a Salesman, he met a great man that would end up being his Mentor and his Boss. Norm became a Sales Engineer for Power/Mation. I am sure when Don Craighead first met Norm he did not know what he was in for, but he would soon find out. Norm would come to epitomize the word ‘workaholic’. He dove in, rolled up his sleeves, and helped to build the Wisconsin Division of Power/Mation to what is is today.
I am not sure if Norm ever thought there was anything he could not do, and if there was, well he certainly never showed it. Although, as confident as he was, he was without ego. He was able to see the potential and talent in people that perhaps didn’t have credentials that conventional wisdom would have us believe are important. He ended up building a company that was very much like a family. It was a good thing he did, because about now you may wonder if Norm and Jan had any children? They in fact had 4 children together. While most workaholics are absentee fathers, there were no “cats in the cradle” going on with Norm. How do you spend time with your kids and be a workaholic? Simple, you take them with you. Norm took his children everywhere with him. Most men go off hunting or fishing with the guys for a weekend, and Norm did too – he just brought his kids with him. Likely, much to the chagrin of the other guys he was with. When Norm’s oldest son, Brian, got to the age of 16, Jan made what she thought was a good suggestion. She said, “why don’t you teach your son how to work on cars?” Now, knowing Norm, teaching his son to work on the family station wagon wouldn’t have been good enough. In typical Norm fashion, his answer was nothing less than, yep, you guessed it…Muscle Cars! Yet another obsession, a ‘34 Ford Roadster quickly was joined by a 1964 Plymouth with a 426 Hemi engine. Jan worried about her young son driving these fast cars and speeding on the street. Norm always had an answer, and it was simple, get a race car! Driving on fast on a drag strip is much safer than on the street–the man’s logic was beyond reproach!
Kelly, the oldest of Norm’s children, and his only daughter, had absolutely no interest in the testosterone and loud cars. Kelly had had bigger plans, and needed more art and culture than could be found with guys at work, and certainly was far too classy for the drag strip. Norm realized that early on and did what he could for Kelly to follow her dreams; sending her to New York for fashion school during her high school summers. For college, he made sure she could go to the the best schools in the world: Sarah Lawrence, Oxford, The Sorbonne. Norm knew that Kelly was capable of conquering the world, and he made sure to give her every opportunity to spread her wings. She did, and made him very proud.
Muscle cars had a grip on Norm, he was hooked and Mopars were where it was at for him. Presumedly because he was after the most rare, most powerful, most sought after cars. The more he and Brian learned about these cars, now they started needing the upgrades. Their passion for these cars and the particular engines turned Norm into sort of treasure hunter. He would scour acres of swap meets and junk yards all over the county. In time, he had again become an authority on another ‘hobby’. Collectors from all over the county would call Norm to talk about the right way to restore their car. When parts were hard to find, he would decide to make them. He would study the original parts and learn the processes that were originally used so he could replicate them with exacting detail. This would end up becoming a business for Norm, and he was happy to run that business with his son, Brian. Brian and Norm would join forces to become the business Crossram Connection. Norm would spend his evenings on the phone talking with people from coast to coast, all over the world in fact. If you every went to a car show with Norm, and walked with him it would take forever to get down one aisle as everyone would call his name and come to him to talk him, always wanting his opinion on something. Brian, along with his two younger brothers, Erin and Colin, would join Norm in traveling almost every weekend of every summer, The events all over the country, it was all about drag racing and selling parts.
Erin would end up identifying more with Norm, the Sales Engineer, than Norm, the Mopar Guru. Norm would take Erin with him to see customers at a young age. Norm would take Erin out of School and take him to engineering shows and trainings all over the country–especially if they were in New England. Erin shared Norm’s appreciation for New England, and would eventually move to Maine with his own family, to become a Sales Engineer, same as Norm. Even in Norm’s last days, Erin and Norm would talk about work projects, because Norm loved work. Norm loved sharing his passions with his boys, no matter they were spread out. Brian was 7 years older than Erin, and Colin was 7 years younger than Erin. Norm was a Force of Nature, and like any force of nature, whether it be the Sea or a mighty Storm, if you don’t fear it, you better damn well respect it!
Colin played by different rules. Norm and Colin had a very special relationship. Perhaps it was because he was the baby, or maybe Colin was made of stuff greater than the rest. He never approached Norm in fear, no matter how loud Norm roared. Even as a young child, Colin would approach Norm while he was furious about something. His siblings would watch expecting to see their little brother meet certain doom, however, something very strange would often happen. Norm would smile, or even laugh. I always thought it was because Colin just drove him so crazy he actually was just losing his mind. As I watched them over the years though, I could tell that there was something very special and different between them. Norm was always so busy working that he never had time to attend one of Kelly’s field hockey games, nor one of Brian’s basketball games. I am not even sure if Norm was aware that Erin even played little league. What I can tell you is Norm never missed one of Colin’s football games, in high school or college. He would even travel to Whitewater to watch Colin’s practice.
Norm’s relationships with his children were unique, but all of his children know that they were loved the same. The relationships were at best unconventional, but they were, if nothing else, profound. Norm was extreme, he was self-centered but self-less. He was self-assured, yet carried no ego. He was as generous as he was stubborn…both beyond belief! Norm was a Force; Norm was Loved; most importantly, Norm will be Remembered.