On Thursday, April 17th, Bangor and the Eastern Maine community as a whole lost a giant of a man with the passing of Norris Nickerson. According to his obituary in the Bangor Daily News, Nickerson, 74, passed away due to complications from a blood cancer. Mr. Nickerson spent 49 years as an educator in Bangor, beginning in the fall of 1962 teaching biology and physical education. He also assisted Coach Gerry Hodge with the Rams football program. Nickerson then went on to serve as assistant principal before spending the final 22 years of his career as principal at Bangor High School, retiring in 2011.
My first recollection of Norris Nickerson came in 1986. I was an eighth grade student at Fifth Street Middle School in Bangor (now called the James F. Doughty School). That February I started what would be an annual tradition for me for 29 straight years running. I attended my first high school basketball tournament games. The atmosphere inside the old barn on Dutton Street was electric. As the teams were introduced for that first game, I began to know Mr. Nickerson as so many others have known him. He was the public address voice of the Eastern Maine basketball tournament. Legions of players throughout the week would be welcomed by his authoritative cadence.
Mr. Nickerson would announce every game of the tournament, although in those days the public address announcements were handled much differently than today. For many years only the starting line-ups would be introduced, followed by the coaches and officials. A few years after I started attending games would the entire rosters be announced. It’s only been within the last fifteen years or so in which announcements have be done during the games, i.e. fouls, baskets, etc.
His voice had such a presence and authority to it. There was no fluff, no over-the-top fanfare. I’m not sure a voice could match a persona any better than that of Norris Nickerson.
The next time I heard that voice was during my freshman year that fall at Bangor High School. At the end of Roger Reed’s third period civics class, there would be Mr. Nickerson’s voice over the intercom with the daily school announcements. “The following people please report to Mr. Nickerson’s office:” I’m assuming you would not want to be on that list. Being the assistant principal in charge of discipline, you weren’t likely to be heading down to discuss last night’s ballgame or what you had for dinner. For the record, in my four years of high school I was never called down to Mr. Nickerson’s office. I did, however, get called down to our other assistant principal, Ray Bussiere’s office. Turns out he needed help with his fantasy baseball team. Bussiere for several years has also been a fixture at the high school basketball tournament.
Nickerson was a paradox, but so aren’t most of us to a certain extent. He had that gruff exterior but yet had a heart of gold and cared deeply about his school and the students. It was a tough love, a love that demanded discipline and high expectations. Make no mistake, there was a culture of discipline at Bangor High School. It was because of that culture that Bangor has been listed as one of the top schools in the state for a number of years, a result that he took great pride in.
Nickerson also took pride in the Rams’ success in the athletic arena. He was always there, not just because he had to be, but he genuinely cared about athletics and wanted to help provide a first class experience.
Mr. Nickerson was also a giver of himself. He was very active in the Shriners over the years and worked tirelessly to help provide children medical care at their hospitals, without cost to the families.
Mr. Nickerson has stayed involved in athletics over the years, primarily with his continued association with the Eastern Maine basketball tournament. Over the past several years he has served as co-tournament director alongside longtime director Bill Fletcher. Recently, Nickerson has teamed up with retired Brewer High School principal, Jerry Goss, as the tourney directors. It seems only fitting Mr. Nickerson was able to with us to usher in the first tournament at the beautiful new Cross Insurance Center.
Following my graduation from Bangor High School, Mr. Nickerson and I have crossed paths on many occasions, primarily at the annual basketball tournament. We usually chatted briefly and he always seemed genuinely interested in what was happening with my life.
All of us when we leave this Earth hope to leave a strong, lasting legacy. Norris Nickerson leaves a legacy of excellence, through a culture of discipline. While many of us may not have realized it at the time, the standards he set for those he influenced greatly enhanced many lives. He left a legacy of giving and caring for others through his philanthropic endeavors.
Rest in peace, Mr. Nickerson.