Roy Norden, 83, veteran of WWII, longtime high school football coach

Roy Norden was a standout football lineman at Boston English High School and Boston College. Roy Norden was a standout football lineman at Boston English High School and Boston College.
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / June 28, 2009
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When Roy Norden spoke, his football players on championship teams at Wareham, Marlborough, and Beverly high schools definitely listened.

“He’d call you over by your first name in that low, deep voice, and he’d be eye to eye and nose to nose with you,’’ recalled Dave “Bippy’’ Manuel, a star quarterback and captain on powerhouse Beverly High in the early 1960s. “He coached football the way it was supposed to be coached, and he was a winner. And once you moved on in life, he never turned his back on you. He was always there to help.’’

Mr. Norden, a standout football lineman at Boston English High and Boston College and past president of the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association, died Thursday of kidney failure at Beverly Hospital.

He was 83.

During his last days, Mr. Norden’s family kept his favorite photograph by his bedside. It was taken at a Boston English prom and showed Mr. Norden, the school’s football captain in 1942, escorting his future wife of 57 years, Marilyn (Lowney), who died last September.

“For the last six years of my mother’s life, she was in the Blueberry Hill Nursing Home [in Beverly], and my father was there every day to visit her,’’ said Mr. Norden’s son, Roy Jr. of Providence, who also lettered in football at B.C. in the early ’80s. “Then he’d visit with other patients. He was the kind of guy who’d stop on the highway to help someone with a flat tire, and he was always accessible.’’

Sandy Kessaris, coauthor of “The History of Beverly High School Football in the 20th Century,’’ said Mr. Norden, who resided in Beverly for the past 50 years, “was an imposing figure, the perfect coach because of the way his players respected him and played for him.’’

From 1959-74 Mr. Norden’s Beverly High teams posted an 87-53-4 record, including undefeated seasons in 1960 and 1964. The 1960 team won the Eastern Mass. Class A title, and in 1964 Everett and Beverly topped the Class A standings with 9-0 records.

He also coached lacrosse at the high school, where he served as athletic director from 1974-1993.

“Roy reminded me so much of my dad, growing up during the Depression, serving their country, and truly becoming part of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ ’’ said Roger Rosinski, an assistant at Beverly High under Mr. Norden and later head coach at the school.

“What he went through early in life really shaped him. Roy’s favorite expression was, ‘The sun is still going to rise tomorrow.’ He had a presence about him, he would always try to get in the last word and funniest line, and he was an absolute gentleman.’’

But a tough adversary.

“No one had a better knowledge of the game,’’ said former Brookline High football coach Ed Schluntz, also a past president of the coaches association.

“Roy adjusted well to his opponents, and he’d throw something different at you all the time. He was loyal to the association and worked at many of our football clinics over the years.’’

Roy Charles Norden, a Roslindale native, enlisted in the US Navy in 1943 and served in the Pacific during World War II, including the Saipan campaign.

After graduation from BC in 1950, he was hired as head coach at Wareham High and guided the undefeated team to the Eastern Mass. Class D title.

He moved on to Stoughton High in 1952 and was head coach at Marlborough High from 1953-58.

His teams won five Midland League championships and two Central Mass. Class C titles (1957 and 1958) while winning what is believed to be 24 consecutive games, the best streak among high schools in the state at that time.

“We still talk about Roy and regard him as a legend,’’ said former Marlborough High running back Bob McCabe, who starred for Mr. Norden’s undefeated ’57 and ’58 teams.

“I went on to play at West Point after high school, and their plays weren’t as sophisticated as coach Norden’s. He was way ahead of his time. Roy was also our track coach, and he made a lot of his football players faster by getting them to come out for the sport, linemen included.’’

The citizens of Marlborough rewarded those teams by financing their trip to the 1957 Orange Bowl and a 1958 junket to the historic New York Giants-Baltimore Colts overtime NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium.

Mr. Norden, whose closest coaching buddies were the late Joe Hoague (Melrose High) and Walter White (Woburn High), was an inductee to the Boston English, Marlborough High, and Beverly High halls of fame and to the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“Roy, Joe, and Walter were the ‘Three Amigos,’ ’’ recalled Billy Tighe, Lexington High’s head coach of the past 35 seasons.

“We served for many years together on the coaches association executive board and had fun doing it.’’

Mr. Norden found pleasure in gardening and in early morning rounds of golf at Wenham Country Club, where he was usually the first player on the course. He was also a beloved volunteer at the Hospice of the North Shore in Danvers and a fund-raising chairman for the American Cancer Society.

Mr. Norden was a deeply religious man, according to his daughter, Catherine Davison of Beverly.

“His answering machine always had an inspirational message or psalm recorded,’’ she said. “He had a wall of trophies collected throughout his career, but the ones he treasured most were for community service,’’ which included awards from the hospice and cancer society. “He also enjoyed wearing the rings and watches that were mementos from my brother’s bowl games at BC.’’

Mr. Norden also leaves three other daughters, Lyn Norden of Reading, Sharon MacKenzie of Beverly and Seattle, and Erica Foley of Charlton; and 11 grandchildren.

A funeral service for Mr. Norden will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Our Savior Lutheran Church in Topsfield, where Mr. Norden was a congregant. A private burial will be held at a later date.