In Memoriam: Arlie Norman

  • Arlan Norman smiles, wearing short white hair, glasses and a blue shirt

Arlan (Arlie) Norman, the founding dean of Western's College of Sciences and Technology (now College of Science and Engineering) died suddenly on Saturday, July 31, after suffering a devastating stroke, at the age of 81. 

"The CSE and Western community is deeply saddened by the loss of Arlie Norman; he was certainly a significant member of the community in the broadest sense, made so many contributions, and had such an impact both during his time at Western and following his retirement as well," said Brad Johnson, dean of  the College of Science and Engineering and longtime chair of the Physics & Astronomy department under Norman's leadership.

"As our founding dean, he led the process of creating a college and a community with a common mission, focused on serving students and ensuring that those students had opportunities to engage in a broad range of authentic experiences," Johnson said. "I had the great privilege of working with Arlie since his first days at WWU, and certainly benefited from his skill, mentorship, and wisdom. He will be greatly missed."

Western President Sabah Randhawa also expressed his condolences to the Norman family.

“Arlie and Diane were among the first Bellingham residents to welcome us when Uzma and I moved to Western in August 2016, and we have so much appreciated their friendship and generosity. Being the founding dean of a college is a major commitment; Dr. Norman not only rose to the challenge of being the founding dean of the College of Sciences and Technology, his leadership and work have had a significant impact on the college and the university. Arlie had a passion for Western and the Bellingham community. We have lost a true friend,” Randhawa said.

Arlie was born and raised in North Dakota, received his PhD at Indiana University and established his career in Boulder, Colorado, where he was professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado and served as the Associate Dean of the College of Natural Sciences. His long career at CU in research and teaching led to numerous publications and awards. In that time, Arlie and his wife, Diane, raised their two children in Boulder where they embarked on a lifelong love of the outdoors, whether hiking, camping or skiing.

With Diane, Arlie came to Bellingham in 2003 to take on his new role as founding dean of the College of Sciences and Technology, a position he held for eight years. Throughout his career, he was committed to high quality science education. The Normans quickly grew to love their new community in the Pacific Northwest. Arlie joined the Bellingham Rotary, the Technology Alliance Group and chaired the board of the SPARK Museum. He was also a faithful partner in Diane's deep involvement in the Bellingham Festival of Music.

I had the great privilege of working with Arlie since his first days at WWU, and certainly benefited from his skill, mentorship, and wisdom. He will be greatly missed.

Arlie was brilliant, yet humble, curious and always interested in others. He shared his love of travel and adventure with friends and family. An active, involved father and grandfather, he loved spending time with daughter, Hilary Benson, her husband David, and their three children in the Seattle area. And, he was a proud, devoted father to his son, U.S. Army Colonel Geoffrey Norman, his wife Stephanie and their two sons, through their frequent moves around the country and deployments overseas.

Arlie has been honored at WWU with a scholarship fund established in the College of Science and Engineering; named the "Arlan Norman Award for Excellence in Student Mentoring," the fund recognizes his contributions as the inaugural dean of CSE and his lifelong dedication to mentorship, science and education. If you wish to make a contribution to the fund, please visit:

Arlie is survived by Diane, Hilary, Geoffrey, and five grandsons; his sisters Doris Steingraber and Twyla Chun. A small family service is planned now, with a celebration of his life sometime in the fall.
To share your memories of Arlie, please sign his online guestbook at

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Thursday, August 5, 2021 - 9:05am