Norman P. Auburn (1905–2003), tenth president of The University of Akron (1951–1971), was a husband and father as well as UA’s most important leader in the second half of its 150 years. His third-born child remembers the private man behind the public figure.
In 1926, a draftsman’s son met a minister’s daughter at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio’s second-largest university. In order to convince her father that he could support her, he gave up law school and a graduate fellowship to launch a career in public relations. They married, encountered the Depression, and he built a new career at their alma mater, where he rose to second-in-command. In 1951, they were called to preside at Ohio’s tenth-largest college in the gritty one-industry town of Akron. Twenty years later, The University of Akron had become the third-largest university in Ohio, having grown from 4,500 to 20,500 students.
Norm and Kay Auburn treated the President’s Home as a manse and the university constituents as a congregation. They entertained there extensively, inviting every student, faculty, and staff member and showing off the distinguished visitors they brought for lectures, commencements, and commissioning. Behind the scenes they prepared the public face. They raised three children to adulthood and marriage and arranged for the lifelong security of their disabled child.
Soon after their retirement, Kay died. Norm had already begun a new career as a rent-a-president and had consolidated the banking career which the UA Board had permitted him to start. Three years later, he found a new life partner who helped prolong those post-retirement careers. His son Davey, handicapped by cerebral palsy, motivated Norman’s quest to assure an estate capable of Davey’s support.