William C. Norris, a longtime friend of the University of St. Thomas and a nationally recognized technology leader, died Aug. 21. Norris, who had suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was 95.
A giant in the development of the nation’s computer industry, Norris was widely regarded as a pioneer in the development and use of technology, the role of business in addressing social problems, and the importance of entrepreneurs in developing small businesses.
Norris was the founder and chairman emeritus of the famed Control Data Corp. and helped launch dozens of Minnesota companies. He founded Control Data in 1957 and retired as chairman and chief executive officer in 1986.
From 1988 through 2000 he chaired the nonprofit William C. Norris Institute, which supported efforts to improve education through the use of technology, to stimulate technical training in Russia, and to help launch technology-based small companies in disadvantaged neighborhoods of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
In 2001 the institute merged with St. Thomas’ College of Business and moved to the university’s downtown Minneapolis campus. The mission of the institute has been to support the commercialization of innovative, socially beneficial technologies by Minnesota entrepreneurs.
"Throughout my business career I have seen how innovation and creation of good new jobs begin at the entrepreneurial level, yet management and capital resources for start-ups are woefully inadequate," Norris said in 2001. "This relationship with St. Thomas will provide the full range of resources to help entrepreneurs start innovative companies in the various communities of our state."
"William Norris knew Monsignor Terrence Murphy (the late president of St. Thomas) for many years," explained Michael Moore, director of the William C. Norris Institute. "Their friendship, and the College of Business’ programs in entrepreneurship, provided a good setting and permanent home for the institute," Moore said.
"The institute is one of Mr. Norris’ lasting legacies," he added.