Norman's Alps conquest

IT'S been an active life for Sir Ron Norman.

The man who played a key role in the development of Hartlepool Marina is now 71 years old.

Yet he's showing no signs of slowing down, having just completed a 400-mile trek across the Alps.

MARK PAYNE met him as he relaxed at home.

HE'S used to scaling heights. After all, Sir Ron was the man who enjoyed a high-profile career in the world of business.

And when the time finally arrived for him to retire, he was still up in the clouds when he walked 400 miles through the French Alps clad in little more than shorts and sandals.

It inspired the title of his first soon to be published book detailing the epic journey over two summers titled Odd Man Out in the Alps.

"Walking in the mountains and the wilderness is very exhilarating. Every day was a jewel," said Ron.

But let's turn the clock back to the start.

During a career in property development and urban regeneration, he played a key part in some of the most important changes Hartlepool has ever seen – including the town's iconic marina.

The jewel in the town's crown was created while Ron, 71, was chairman of the Teesside Development Corporation.

It was set up in the late 1980s to breathe new life in to run down areas of the region and saw tens of millions of pounds of Government money pumped into the Marina and other developments.

Ron is now retired and lives at Dalton Piercy, on the outskirts of Hartlepool. As he looks back, is understandably proud of what he and the TDC achieved.

"Before the TDC, Teesside was very depressed and in a downward state and afterwards it was in a very positive and upward state.

"Certainly in Hartlepool the marina changed not only the look of the town. It changed people's whole outlook and made them feel positive and I think it was the same throughout Teesside."

The TDC was also responsible for bringing HMS Trincomalee, the UK's oldest floating battleship, to Hartlepool.

It helped with the creation the Tees Barrage, Teesside Park and the relocation of Middlesbrough Football Club to its modern Riverside stadium.

His efforts saw him honoured receiving a knighthood in 1995 for services to Teesside.

Born in Kent, Ron graduated with a first class honours in civil engineering from Kings College in London in 1960.

"When I was at school I was only ever good at maths and physics," he said explaining his career choice.

He came to Hartlepool in 1963 when he was handed a six-week assignment with building company Yuill Homes.

"It lasted for two years then they made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he said. "I married a Hartlepool lass and that was me in Hartlepool for life."

He and Joyce have been married for 35 years and have five children from previous marriages.

Ron split his Alps expedition into two treks over 2005 and 2006 because he did not like to be away from her for more than two weeks.

In his 15 years with Yuill, Ron rose to the position of managing director and chairman and saw the creation of hundreds of new homes including the Fens estate.

He later formed his own development company, Ron Norman Ltd.

It specialised in developing property while still respecting the local architecture.

"I chose architecturally interesting sites and developed housing that was appropriate rather than just plonking mass housing all over the place," he said.

Although Ron officially retired when he was 65, he is still president of the Cleveland Community Fund of which he was the founding chairman in the 1990s.

Quite casually, he explains: "I raised 5m by going round local companies and persuading them Cleveland should have this support programme."

The fund is still going strong.

The dividends from it go towards helping relieve poverty and encouraging young people to meet their full potential.

Sitting in Ron's living room, it is easy to see what his other passions are.

Walls are lined from the floor to the ceiling with books about wildlife, history, and travel.

His journey across the Alps from Lake Geneva to Nice allowed him to combine most of these interests, as well as his love of all things French.

"I like walking by myself because you get a totally different experience," said Ron. "You can go at your own pace and you see all sorts of birds, butterflies and flowers you wouldn't see otherwise."

When he is not travelling the world with Joyce, Ron enjoys collecting and binding books, nurturing his wildlife garden and spending time with his five grandchildren.