UC Berkeley alumnus and former journalist Christopher Norton died on June 22 at his home in Sebastopol, Calif., after a battle with liver cancer. Norton was 62.
Born in Manhattan, New York, Norton attended Amherst College in 1969, but left school to live in Northern California. He then continued his education in 1981 at National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, and then received a bachelor’s degree in Central American Studies from UC Berkeley when he graduated in 1983.
During his time on campus, Norton developed an interest in journalism and was a writer for The Daily Californian.
Coupling his background in journalism and Central American Studies, Norton worked on the series “Tortured Land,” which took place in El Salvador and Guatemala, for The San Francisco Examiner. In 1984, he became a freelance journalist in El Salvador for numerous publications, including In These Times, The Christian Science Monitor and Time Magazine.
Mary Maloney, who married Norton in 1990, spent the last 22 years with Norton in El Salvador, Europe and Sonoma County.
Maloney recalled meeting her late husband in 1985 when she worked as a nurse in El Salvador. Both cared about the plight of the Salvadoran people during that time, due to the constant bombings that the people were subjected to under President Jose Napoleon Duarte.
“We shared a love of the El Salvadoran people and a recognition of the terrible oppression they experienced,” Maloney said. “As a journalist, (Norton) was unhappy with the poor media coverage of the corruption in El Salvador, which was really playing into the oppressive treatment of El Salvadorians.”
According to Maloney, Norton was helping the people of El Salvador by attempting to expose what the U.S. media failed to cover and to give the people a voice.
Norton and Maloney had a daughter, Sophie, after they moved to Sonoma County in 1991.
From 1997 to 2009, Norton worked for Burbank Housing in Santa Rosa as a construction manager. Norton had the opportunity to build houses for economically disadvantaged families alongside the future occupants of the homes. Fluent in Spanish, he was able to connect to and bond with many Hispanic families during his time with the company.
Norton’s sister, Felicia, admired her brother’s sense of adventure and willingness to push the envelope.
“He was adventurous and was always exploring and pushing the limits,” Felicia Norton said. “He had a great human heart and a lot of compassion for others,”
Larry Mandella, a Berkeley resident, met Norton in 1973 through a mutual friend. Mandella was close friends with Norton for over 40 years, and remembers Norton as not only a pioneer in the world of journalism and a proponent of social justice, but mainly for his generosity and kindness.
“His many accomplishments as a social justice activist and journalist speak for themselves,” Mandella said. “Equally important was the kind of man he was — kind, thoughtful and compassionate, with a great sense of humor and a deep love of life.”