Norman P. Canright, 89, a journalist, a Western American radical, a business executive in the stuffed animal trade, and a 70-year resident of the San Francisco-Bay Area, died peacefully at the home he shared with his son and daughter-in-law in Galveston, Texas on June 18, 2007. As he died, his granddaughter, Lindsay, held his hand and sang one of his favorite songs.
Norman P. Canright
J. Levy & Termini Funeral Home
Norman was born to Charles and Edna Canright in Thermopolis, Wyoming, on July 13, 1917, one of four sons and a daughter. His father, born in Minnesota, had wandered restlessly west, once staking a homesteader's claim on the high prairies of North Dakota, then moving west to Wyoming. Along the way, Charles came into contact with the "Wobblies," the International Workers of the World in the lumber camps and train yards where he worked, and he understood the struggle between capital and labor. In Thermopolis, Charles ran the pool hall in town and his sons delivered newspapers. When Norman was 14 years old, early in the Great Depression, the family moved west again to Oakland, California, to join the eldest son, Earl, who had a job there as a barber.
Norman was first of his family and the only of his siblings to go to college. His unusual talent with the written word earned him a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated in 1939, having served as the editor of The Daily Californian, the campus newspaper. His editorials at the Daily Californian, reflect a growing consciousness of the plight of the working class and particularly with the anti-Fascist struggle then raging in Spain. A child of the Great Depression and of a working-class family, he was drawn to socialism, embracing trade unionism, anti-racism, government economic action, and anti-Fascism.
After graduation, Norman joined the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency concerned with the well-being of agricultural workers, particularly of refuges from the Dust Bowl states of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas who had migrated to California's Central Valley. It was here, in Visalia, California, that he met Margery Mitchell, another young idealist with the FSA, who was to be his wife for more than 60 years.
When war came, Norman served with the U.S. Army Quartermaster corps, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. He was stationed in Long Beach, California, though the couple had settled in San Francisco where they lived until Margery's death just over two years ago.
After demobilization, Norman and Margery joined the Communist Party USA and took jobs with the West Coast party newspaper, the San Francisco-based Daily Peoples' World. Both had a keen sense of the duty that educated people must accept to promote social change and Norman's training with the daily newspaper at Berkeley equipped him to serve as copy desk editor of the paper. Margery, a graduate in Humanities at Pomona College, served as librarian and reporter. A son, David, was born to them in 1945, and another, Stephen, in 1947. The family throve on "movement pay" and conviction in the gritty working class Mission District at the heart of San Francisco.
The relevance of the Communist Party to progressive change in America became increasingly questionable in the following years, but the onslaught of McCarthyism firmed people of principle, like Norman and Marge Canright, in their resistance to an attack on Americans' basic freedom to question the direction of their government. The confirmation by Nikita Khrushchev in 1957 of the horrific misdeeds of Joseph Stalin was the final disenchantment for the couple, as it was for many others, and they left the party that had provided both a purpose in life and a livelihood.
Faced with the need to support his family, Norman plunged into commerce at the age of 40, first working on the docks as a ship's clerk, until he was hired as a temporary clerk with a small importing company, R. Dakin & Company. When the F.B.I. called company president Roger Dakin to suggest that he might not want to hire a "Red," he reportedly told them to mind their own business. Norman quickly advanced to sales manager, then to vice president for sales, and member of the board of directors, as he helped to build R. Dakin into the second largest firm in the nation in the benign business of plush stuffed animals.
During his years at R. Dakin and following his retirement in 1988, Norman and Margery traveled the world, including early forays into China and Tibet. In San Francisco, the couple enjoyed the rich cultural life of their adopted city, especially the San Francisco opera of which they were devotees and patrons for more than three decades. For many years, the family took annual backpacking trips to Big Sur and Yosemite and summer vacations with extended family in Cape Cod.
Norman always said that his success in business was due, in part, to his ability to write a good business letter, and he was a good writer, but it probably had more to do with the fact that he was a good and unfailingly likeable man. An affectionate and devoted husband, a loving and supportive father, his deeply inherent qualities of warmth, humor and consideration for others persisted even as dementia robbed him in retirement of his memory, and finally, of his ability to persist.
Norman is survived by his two sons, Stephen and David Canright, his daughter-in-law Marsha Canright, his granddaughters Lindsay, Nora and Julia Canright, two brothers, Richard and Earl Canright, a brother-in-law, Rowland Mitchell, and many nieces and nephews. Memorial plans are pending, but donations in lieu of flowers are suggested to Libbie's Place, where Norman found new friends and a nurturing environment in his last years in Galveston. Special thanks and gratitude to friends and caregivers Ed Hebert, Dale Rittenhouse, Elizabeth Kramer, Brandon White and members of the Hospice Care Team, especially Michelle and Eric, who gave so much gentle, loving care to Norman and his family.