Bill Nordmark fought polio as a child and racism as an adult, all the while believing one person could make a difference.
And he proved it in the way he lived his life of 69 years.
The longtime Atlantan spent early childhood in an iron lung but went on to be a four-year letterman on Georgia State’s basketball team.
Then two years ago, he embarked on a mission to forge better race relations — two people at a time — through what became known as The Atlanta Friendship Initiative.
Nordmark was extremely passionate about that effort, eldest son Bill said.
“It spoke to him and his passion for giving back to others and being there for everybody,” he said.
William G. Nordmark III, respected businessman, longtime leader in the Rotary Club of Atlanta, dedicated family man and co-founder of The Atlanta Friendship Initiative, died suddenly Monday night from a brain hemorrhage he suffered on Sunday.
Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Nordmark’ s home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Ellijay. Visitation is from from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Northside Chapel Funeral Directors in Roswell and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Bernhardt Funeral Home in Ellijay.
A native of Covington, Ky., Nordmark was stricken with polio at age 2. His family’s home was quarantined, and a sign was placed in the yard: “Polio here.”
He endured being placed in an iron lung and several years of treatments for the disease’s physical complications.
In his teen years, Nordmark and his family moved to the Atlanta area. He played for the Panther basketball team at Georgia State University from 1968 to 1971 before moving into a career in healthcare and consulting.
But Nordmark never forgot his battle with polio, which left him with a slight facial paralysis.
With backing from the international Rotary community, he was a vocal advocate for the worldwide eradication of polio
He was scheduled to make a Rotary club appearance later this month on two of his biggest passions: polio eradication and the Atlanta Friendship Initiative.
Nordmark and John Grant, longtime head of 100 Black men of Atlanta and executive director of ESPN’s Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, started the Friendship Initiative in 2016 in response to what Nordmark saw as a lack of civility in society. He also was upset by rising tensions between police officers and members of some of the nation’s African-American communities.
About that time, A.D. “Pete” Correll, former head of Georgia Pacific and then-chair of the Grady Memorial hospital board, said he believed race relations was the community’s most crucial issue.
Nordmark, a past president and longtime Rotary Club member, set out to change the world, one friendship at a time, starting with one between him and Grant.
“I’m in,” Grant recalls saying when Nordmark pitched the concept of The Atlanta Friendship Initiative to him.
Later, sitting under a tree in a downtown Atlanta park and eating pizza, Nordmark, Grant and another community leader mapped out plans for the Atlanta Friendship Initiative.
Their idea: have two people of different races or ethnic backgrounds agree to meet at least once a quarter and bring their families together once a year in fellowship.
To date, 179 such friendships have been established, Grant said.
He said the friendship that developed between him and Nordmark proves the point they hoped to make: that spreading love and fellowship, not bombs and threats, is the way to solve the issues that divide.
“We made each other better people by allowing ourselves to open to each other and bring our deep selves forward,” Grant said. “Once you do that you realize you are not very different.”
Friends and family describe Nordmark as an extraordinary person.
“He found the good in everyone he met,” said Bob Hagan, a friend of 25-plus years. “He was a wonderful family man and Christian. He was a saint on earth and now the good Lord’s got an angel.”
Son William “Bill” Nordmark IV said his father was always supportive of his friends and wanted to build up the people around him.
“He cared about the community, and as a father, he embodied all that and more,” he said. “He was a role model, a confident and a best friend. He taught us sports, to be competitive and to be caring of everybody we met and of each other.”
Nordmark worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia for 18 years, rising to executive vice president of external affairs.
He established The Nordmark Consulting Group in 1993 and continued to work with healthcare organizations as its president and chief executive officer.
Nordmark was a longtime and deeply devoted member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta, said longtime friend and fellow Rotarian Bob Hope.
During Nordmark’ s tenure as the club’s president, he developed a program recognizing top Atlantans such as developer Tom Cousins and media mogul Ted Turner with the Atlanta Rotary Club’s Legends Awards, Hope said.
“What a wonderfully nice person he was,” he said. “He had a big heart and plenty of energy.”
Nordmark had taken over planning the next three annual citywide prayer breakfasts, and, last week, was telling Rotary leaders he’d lined up Chick-fil-A’s CEO, Dan Cathy, and three choirs for this year’s event and was he was looking down the road at trying to snag celebrity Tyler Perry be a future keynote speaker.
“He just had such a wonderful passion to do good things,” Hope said.
Some members of the 500-member Rotary Club of Atlanta heard the news Sunday of Nordmark’s brain hemorrhage. They thought of cancelling Monday’s Rotary meeting but decided Nordmark would want them to move on.
They remembered him at the gathering with a prayer and moment of silence.
“Bill Nordmark knew all 500 people, and not a single person who would say anything bad about him,” Hope said.
Surviving family include: Nordmark’ s wife, Vickie Nordmark; children, William G. Nordmark IV (Liza), Joseph M. Nordmark (Andrea), and Amy Nordmark Richards (Casey); and several grandchildren.
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