A Tribute to Roger L. Normand
President Obama's much maligned speech in July, 2012 that 'if you've got a business, you didn't built that,' has resonated with me on the eve of our last business day. My wife and I started and ran a successful bakery for 33 years; we had the skills, we had the vision, we had the stamina to make it work. But we most certainly didn't build it alone. My Dad, Roger L. Normand (1929-2010) was a force of nature, and every step along our way at Bakery Normand, except for the past two and one-half years, he was our plant superintendent, our handyman, our trouble-shooter, problem solver, crisis manager, baby-sitter and generally our behind-the-scenes 'rock of support.' I think of him a lot now, at the end, because he did so much for us and asked so little from us.
He was a 'self-made man' of French Canadian immigrant parents. Born in Chicopee, MA, but raised and resident all his adult life in Holyoke, MA, he learned cabinet making from his father, and followed him into the mills of Holyoke as a millwright, or machine repairman. He hadn't finished High School when he took a job at American Pad & Paper Co., but by the time he retired from Ampad after 44 years of service, he had earned his High School Equivalency Diploma and had managed to become Ampad's plant engineer (not only for their Holyoke Mill, but for all of their paper converting factories in Utah, Texas and Illinois). He understood the way things worked, how things were put together, how they could be taken apart, how broken things could be fixed. He had an intuitive sense for mechanical assembles, for all things electrical, for plumbing, for woodworking, for rigging and moving heavy objects, for looking deeply into man-made things in order to understand how they worked, or why, in very many cases, they weren't working well.
So you can see, without stating the obvious, he was a good man to know if you had a problem with the real things that make our world run smoothly. He was especially a good man to have your back if you were his son and owned a business full of mechanical equipment that seemed to always need repair. And he always had our backs. In 1985, when we were in fear of losing our lease at 44 Main Street, we decided to open a café-outlet on the second floor of Thornes Marketplace-Café Normand. We figured that, if we lost our lease, we would still have a location in Downtown Northampton, and that we could always find a production facility somewhere outside of town if we needed. My Dad planned and supervised the entire project. He built a dry pastry case to exactly match the wood, glass and stainless steel vintage pastry case in our 44 Main St. store. Both cases still sit side-by-side in our current location-his case is the one that holds our tea cookies and larger cookies. He also built matching wooden bread racks to our 44 Main St. racks (both are long gone).
He designed and built one of the most important pieces of equipment in our kitchen- a dough sheeter. That's the machine that allowed us to make uniform croissant, danish, puff pastry, and our thin and uniform tea cookies. That machine was his baby and he came by every few weeks, for sure, in order to grease the gears on it and make sure it was in tip-top condition.
In 1993 on Good Friday morning of Easter Week we had an elecrical fire in our four-deck baking oven. One of my bakers, John Knybel, had arrived early to start the sourdough breads and to warm up the ovens. When he noticed black smoke coming out of the control side of the oven, where all the high-tech wiring was, he immediately threw the main circuit breaker and called 911. I arrived shortly after the firemen had put out the fire, containing it to the oven only, and not to the building. With all the side panels off the oven, it was pretty clear that there had been a lot of damage to the electrical components. One fireman said to me, "Well, looks like you'll be out of business for a couple of months!" In the meantime I had called my Dad in Holyoke, much as I had often called him in the past with one problem or other to be dealt with. And, as always, he was there as quickly as his car could carry him. Always calm and focused, he took a long look at the oven and then got right to work. Within two hours he had salvaged the good parts from several oven decks and used them to replace the fried and charred parts. Within two hours he was able to get three of the original four decks working. Good Friday production, though delayed, was saved. And so was Easter Saturday production. We had to work multiple shifts and longer hours to produce the same volume in three ovens as we would normally produce in four ovens, but the point is that we were able to produce anything at all. Even if we had found an electrician, unlikely on Easter Weekend, he probably would have told us that the repair would be long and costly. As it was, the repair was quick, with the urgency only a father would gift his son, and the cost was an amazing ZERO DOLLARS.
That was my Dad. That's what he could do, and that's what he did to make our bakery run for 30 years of our 33 year run. Without him Bakery Normand would not have survived and we would not have prospered.
So, I would be the first to attest that we did not build this business alone. Not by a long shot. And I haven't even begun to mention all the employees who worked so hard and gave more than expected to make our bakery a place of friendly service and consistant quality.
But above all, and on this last night and early morning of baking for me, my Dad will still have my back. I love him for his lessons in selflessness and giving. He was proud of what we had done, but I am prouder to have been his son.