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Norman F. Rohn, 1919-1989



I first teamed up with Norm Rohn during a Sierra Club trip to the Palisades over Labor Day in 1974. We climbed the rib between the two Underhill Couloirs and proceeded to the base of the impressive summit block of Thunderbolt Peak. It was a frustrating business getting the rope over the block and I missed the target countless times. My temper flared and Norm called out, “Peace on Earth!” I laughed, relaxed and made my last throw. The rope arched perfectly over the crest of the block.

Norm was the most complete sportsman I have ever known. He climbed all of the peaks on the Hundred Peaks, Desert Peaks and Sierra Peak lists (over 600 in all) in addition to the crags of Joshua Tree and many routes at Tahquitz Rock. He climbed in the Tetons and bagged the Devils Tower (after retirement!). He joined expeditions to Huascarán and Aconcagua and climbed Mexico’s volcanoes. He served as a mountaineering instructor in the Sierra Club, and everyone benefited from his experience in the outdoors and in life, whether a beginner or expert in either field. His pack was not as large as that of the legendary Norman Clyde, but Norm could be called on to repair boots, reels, zippers, carabiners or stoves from the modest collection of tools he always carried. I remember his removing a fishhook from a dog’s mouth at Sallie Keyes Lakes in 1985. Norm was an enthusiastic fisherman, and he stalked the lakes of the High Sierra for rainbows and goldens before and after bagging the peak or peaks of the day. He discovered his secret fishing lake one month before his death. Many of his friends will long remember his expertise as a hunter. One of his favorite activities was hunting desert deer. He visited almost every hot spring in the West. He was also a blue-water sailor, delivering yachts to California after their owners had vacationed in Mexico. Norm went everywhere, knew everything, could do anything and fix anything anywhere at any time.

Norm was born in Milwaukee and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received two Master’s degrees. He was a mechanical engineer for the U.S. Navy at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, rising to the post of Chief Engineer of the Fleet Weapons Engineering Program. He was never confined to his desk during his career. His duties saw him leaping out of helicopters with frogmen and breaking the sound barrier on a routine basis with naval aviators. One of his regrets was that he never made it to Mach 2, but he did reach Mach 1.97 in an F-16 from 50,000 to 10,000 feet in vertical flight shortly before his retirement in 1981.

It was during retirement, however, that the depth and breadth of Norm’s interests were revealed. On the conservation front, he was a member of the National Audubon Society, Desert Bighorn Society, served as chairman of the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, and was an active volunteer for the Nature Conservancy in the Anza Borrego Desert and on Santa Cruz Island. He worked as a volunteer for Food Share, gleaning surplus crops from the fields of Ventura County and delivering them to the needy. Norm was an excellent gardener and a member of the Ventura County Orchid Society, Theodosia Burr Fuchsia Society and Begonia Society. He was a proud member of the American Alpine Club.

Norm and I had made plans for a peak-bagging and fishing trip to Lake Basin in the High Sierra last August. Norm, out in front as usual, asked for a rest break after two hours of hiking up the Taboose Pass Trail. He became uncomfortable and collapsed shortly after noon. Fifteen minutes of frantic effort failed to revive him. Gradually I realized that my good friend was gone. He will be missed by his mother Hazel, his wife Maggie, his children Kate, Lex, Carrie and Casey, grandchildren and many friends from all walks of life. Over a hundred were present to comfort each other in Norm’s house and garden a week later. Memorial donations may be made in Norm’s memory to the Nature Conservancy.

Peace on Earth !

Robert J. Secor