On Wednesday evening, at 7:30 PM, this world said "good bye" to a man who I would like to call a "quiet giant."
Norm Olson was one of the most unobtrusive men in the leadership of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) but also one who probably had more to do with shaping the organizations direction during the 1960s to 1980s as anyone else. Most of all for me, his influence in shaping my own career in MAF and ultimately in the mission world, was huge.
When Anita and I first showed up at MAF's doorsteps in February of 1977, it was Norm Olson who decided right then and there that I should work for him. He proceeded to negotiate with Don Berry, the director of personnel, to alter the rules of becoming an MAF pilot just so that I could join the organization immediately and then later, fly as an MAF pilot. Within a few hours of my first interview, he handed me a piece of paper that had a joint commitment on it that if I worked for his Development Department for four years, and if I completed all my flight ratings, that MAF would accept me as a field pilot - even without an A&P mechanics license. Two weeks later, Anita and I accepted the proposal.
Have you ever had anyone who believed in you that way so quickly that they were ready to make a major commitment to your personal development?
Those four years stretched into five, and during that entire time, Norm mentored me as a young leader. I learned about time management, about strategic planning, and about ministry effectiveness. Few people I knew where as creative as Norm and he ultimately demanded that same creativity in me. More than once, I went to Norm to ask how to do something and he would simply reply, "We've never done that before, so you'll just need to figure out a way to do it yourself."
By the time those five years were up, I was responsible for all aspects of MAF's Development Department except for the direct mail letters. My group included people like Dennis Whitlock for banquets and Bill Rakozy who helped me launch the first Ministry Partnership department. Norm strongly pressured me to take his place as VP of Development in 1982, but I had just qualified for a field pilot role and was ready to head off to Africa. That was the dream that I needed to accomplish, so I turned Norm's offer down.
Nevertheless, Norm, along with his wife, Cathy, remained special friends throughout the rest of our MAF career and even beyond.
As sad as it is to see a quiet giant like Norm pass from our midst, it is also wonderful to pay tribute to a man who lived his life to the fullest possible extent and though never becoming a big name known by all, finished his life well as a faithful servant of others and of His God. I am proud to be a tiny part of his legacy.