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  • Rick Mauch

Springtown man changes lives by listening

Sometimes all folks want is for someone to listen.

And William Norman is more than happy to be that someone. So happy, in fact, that he can be found almost every day, regardless of weather, on a corner in Azle next to Apex Liquor listening to anyone who wants to talk.

Norman has a tent set up for shade and some chairs for comfort. He is not a therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or such, he simply listens.

“I have never had a day when no one came. Sometimes 15 to 20 will come,” he said. “I’ve even spoken to people in other states that heard about this. I’ve listened to people from age 10 to 90. Some say they have no one and that no one cares. I tell them they’re wrong because I care. That’s why I’m there.

“Some have something that they can’t tell friends or family. They say they need a stranger. I tell them that there is nobody stranger than me.”

Some just want advice. Norman tells people he can give them his opinion and they can take it or leave it, either way he is going to listen.

They come for so many reasons. Depression, drugs, suicide, cheating spouse, loneliness, anger, death, overwhelmed, jobs, alcoholism, divorce, traffic, weather, politics, and he’s even helped some get jobs.

Years ago Norman, now 62, broke his back in a work accident and had a spinal fusion done. While off work, he discovered he had smooth tissue cancer which had metastasized to his head. That was removed and the following year the spinal hardware was removed, but his spinal cord was nicked in the process and he has had problems ever since.

“I was put on disability. My cancer came back, this time growing all around my spine, in 2019. I had it surgically removed. These, along with with other ailments have taken a toll on me physically and mentally, but I haven’t let that stop me,” he said.

So, he figured if he could keep on surviving, perhaps he could listen and offer inspiration to others needing some. Then, he came across the street corner by the liquor store, where others would set up tents to sell things on weekends. It gave him an idea.

“I showed up there on May 13, 2021 and just listened -- and people just started coming,” he recalled. “It went viral on Reddit with about 33,000 reactions, as well as many other sites. I showed up the next day and people kept coming, sometimes lined up. I kept showing up every weekday, unless I have personal things to do, such as doctor’s appointments, and they keep coming.

“They have come when it was 26 degrees and sleeting and when it was 115 degrees and no wind and during light rains. I just keep showing up. They come from all over DFW and beyond, some even coming from Oklahoma.”

Whatever their view, Norman doesn’t argue with them. He just wants to listen and help if he can - and more often than not, the listening is by itself help.

“My mantra is no one can help everyone, but everyone can help someone,” he said. “It may not be sitting on a corner every day for 15 months. It may just be a meal or smile or a compliment or a word of encouragement. I try to encourage people to do something.”

Norman’s work is making national news. In fact, one day he was talking to a lady on the phone with Apple Support and when he told her where he lives, she said, “There’s a guy who sits out there every day and listens to people.” He responded, “Yeah, that’s me.”

Norman doesn’t take any donations for his work. He wants everyone to know he’s not in it for the money.

“Someone would say, ‘That’s why he’s in it,’ and I’m not,” he said. “I do go to church. I’m a Christian, but I have no crosses put up or anything like that. I don’t judge. I’m just hear to listen and help if I can.”

Norman was raised in the Haltom City/North Richland Hills area. He met his wife at the end of 1979 and they were married in 1983. After many years of going back and forth between North Richland Hills and the Azle/Springtown area, 16 years ago they moved permanently to Springtown. They have two daughters and currently raise their 16-year-old grandson, who sometimes accompanies him .

Helping folks is nothing new for Norman. All his life he’s done some sort of volunteering, including children’s church, Sunday school teacher, youth director, song leader, scoutmaster, karate instructor, softball coach, PTO, and many years daily volunteering at his grandson’s school.

However, COVID put a stop to that, also creating a time when he himself needed someone to listen.

“In 2020 I went through some personal stuff that brought me to my knees. Although few people knew what was going on I felt like no one cared. I felt alone. At least that was my perspective,” he said. “But your perspective becomes your reality.

“In December of that year my grandson, Kameron, who had witnessed my pain and crying and praying, said, ‘It’s a shame that no one was there when you needed them. Maybe that’s something you could do.’”

Norman wondered what he could do, not being a counselor or therapist. This stayed on his mind for months, then in May of 2021 he bought a cheap canopy. He had a couple of old lawn chairs. He asked an artist friend if he brought her some poster board could she write “Need To Talk. I’ll Listen. Confidential/ No Judgement.”

“She had some old wood in her garage and made me a sign. I loved it,” he said, and suddenly his plan was in action.

Norman’s plan seems to be rubbing off on others as well.

“Some have come to find out how to start there own ministry, or just to share good news, or just tell me thank you. Sometimes they bring me a drink or food since I’m usually out there for six to nine hours each day,” he said. “I tell them that by doing that they have just as big of a part in this as I do. I don’t believe I’m anything special. I just show up every day.

“I’m blessed to be able to do it and it’s a blessing when people come back and you know you’ve helped them. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a talker, but out there it’s about listening, because that’s what they need, unless they’re just wanting to have a conversation.”

The positivity has gone both ways, Norman said.

“This has changed who I am. I think I’m more accepting. It changed my whole perspective of people’s perspectives,” he said. “I think it’s made me a better and more caring person. I’m not sure how long I’ll keep doing it. If people keep showing up I guess I will too.”

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