The Laurence. J. Norton Chair
Laurence J. Norton was reared on a farm in Granville New York, where he was born in 1896. He was appointed to the University of Illinois faculty in 1923. His career as a teacher, scholar, and leader in Agricultural Economics helped to shape the course of the profession and influenced many students of it.
Professor Norton was educated at Cornell University, receiving his B.S. in 1917 and Ph.D. in 1921. He served in the U.S. Infantry during 1918 and 1919. He married Aurene Taubman in 1922. He held a faculty position at Cornell briefly before coming to the University of Illinois to be an appointment in the Department of Economics. Professor Norton left the University service one year to give leadership to the organization of the Farm Credit Administration in 1933 in Washington, D.C., and again in 1935 in St. Louis. He was appointed Professor of Agricultural Economics in 1936 and later served as Department Head. He was President of the American Farm Economic Association in 1945. His scholarly achievements included two important books and many scientific journal articles which stimulated scholars and practical men alike.
Professor Norton was widely read, a thorough student, and known for his direct manner of speech. He was a man of conviction, never leaving any doubt of his stand on controversial issues. He would not tolerate any compromise of principles. During World War II, he conducted his household without the services of an automobile in deference to the needs of the military effort. The weight of his convictions as translated into his life and actions made his forthright statements widely respected.
His greatest contribution, however, was as a teacher, especially of graduate students. He knew his students personally and understood their problems. He helped them become independent thinkers who could ably defend their position on the controversial issues. In assisting them, he left his mark of integrity with them. He demanded that they be direct and thorough in analyzing difficult problems, a requirement that they grew to appreciate more after leaving his tutelage.
The untimely death of Dr. L. J. Norton in 1956 brought to a sudden close a life devoted to the constructive thinking and practical action pertaining to farm life. In 1964, Mrs. Aurene Norton designed the Aurene T. Norton Living Trust for the eventual distribution of the Norton Estate. The trust included the following statement: “…all the income shall be distributed by the Trustee to the University of Illinois to be used for visiting lecturers or professional chair in Agricultural Economics. I direct that the lecturer and/or the chair provided for herein shall be administered by the Dean of the College of Agriculture and the Head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at the University of Illinois and shall be named ‘The Laurence J. Norton Chair’ in memory of my late husband. I further direct that the preference shall be given to American lecturers in this subject.”
The Norton Chair was formally established in 1972 and it was the first endowed chair in the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois. Dr. Lowell D. Hill was named the first Norton Chair in 1977 and held the position until his retirement in 1999. Dr. Scott H. Irwin was named the second holder of the Norton Chair in 2004 and has held the position since that time.