Thanks for the Memories: A Farewell to Norman Bennett

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He has an impressive resume, starring in Oscar-winning films, popular television shows, and hosts a show weekday mornings on KXII-TV. We have the privilege of working with Norman Bennett but are sad to announce this lifelong North Texan is moving from Texoma.

Norman is moving to El Paso to live closer to his daughter and her family. He's there now for the Thanksgiving holiday.

He’s quite an impressive person, but in addition to his television and movie he retired after a long career as a math teacher in Grayson County.

Norman is a familiar face every morning right here on Channel 12 but known for more than just the guests he interviews on our set.

"Of course now he's like an icon, 'Oh. to be in a play with Norman Bennett. Ahhh,'" Sherman Community Players director Ron Cassady says.

"He was just recognized as the top teachers in Sherman of all time, there's no question about that," retired Sherman teacher Jack Noble says.

"I never dreamed I’d be working in television," Norman says.

Norman Bennett was born and raised in Gainesville but moved to Sherman after graduating from SMU. He began teaching math at Sherman High School, coached the tennis team, and he says he valued every student in the classroom.

He then moved to Howe High School with that contagious smile and a knack for math.

"He had the kids mesmerized. He could laugh with him, but they knew when he meant business. He always kept them on task." retired Howe secretary Iva Holcomb says.

"Norman was known for writing math problems on the chalkboard with his eyes on the class the entire time. He made students feel at ease as they learned a subject that is sometimes intimidating."

"He could make everyone else feel at home in his classroom. He could connect with everyone. There was never anyone who was left out in his class,” former student Rodney Holcomb says.

Meanwhile, Norman starred in plays and musicals at the Sherman Community Players Theater.

Former KXII sales manager Gil Lee asked some of the actors to audition for some commercials, and Norman landed the part.

"And a couple of months later they went out of business. Gil gave me two more commercials later, and they went out of business. I got rid of three businesses right away," Norman jokes of his efforts as a pitch man.

Lee decided to put Norman on weekend weather instead, using a tele-type machine and a magnet board.

"The only thing you had to be careful about is you had a pointer and occasionally I would hit the board and all the magnets would fall and it was live, of course and I had to learn how to not hit the board. Otherwise, it would look like it was snowing all the way across the country," Norman says.

Norman also hosted a money show after school, drawing names and calling the folks at home.

His career did not go unnoticed by his students who wrote about those commercials in the school paper.

Even though he says the television gig was unexpected, it was just the beginning of what he would experience in show business.

Part 2

Norman made an impact in the classroom teaching math for nearly 40 years, but he also made an impact on stage, and the big and small screens.

But even with these impressive accomplishments, if you know Norman, it's his character that sticks out in your mind even after the final credits roll.

"I just lucked out because I had a Texas accent, you know. Not that I’m a good actor, I just play myself. Very typecast."

He may call it luck, but others call it the charisma Norman Bennett exhibits every time he's on stage or on camera.

"I mean he can take a line and make it work every time. He can get a laugh with just a look," Cassady says.

In the early 80's after his children were grown, Norman decided to earn some extra cash and audition for commercials in Dallas, so he hired an agent.

Just his luck, at the same time several major motion pictures brought their productions to Texas.

"That was lucky too, I didn’t plan that. If I had tried to get it, I probably wouldn't have gotten to do it," Norman says.

He starred in two films in the same year, Terms of Endearment and Tender Mercies. Both were nominated for Best Picture in 1983.

"They showed my very first scene in Tender Mercies. I don’t know who selected it. But anyway, the next day my mother called from Gainesville, who was in her late eighties and said a friend of hers said she had seen me on the Oscars and wondered how I enjoyed my trip to California. She thought I had been out to California. But they just showed a little clip. It was my scene where I meet Duvall," Norman says.

"You’ve got to pull him aside and say, 'Norman what are you doing?' 'Oh, I made a movie with Shirley McClaine,' and he would have never tell you on his own. But that's just the way he is," Ron Cassady adds.

Norman was teaching at Howe High School during this time, leaving for weeks at a time to shoot the films.

While his students always wanted to know what it was like rubbing elbows with the stars.

"There can't be that many people that have that kind of experiences where their math teacher says, “I'm going to shoot this movie with Shirley McClaine and Jack Nicholson. I'll be back in a couple of weeks,” former student Holcomb says.

After retiring from a 36 year teaching career, Norman continued his television in film career with memorable roles.

"There was Sandra Bullock in Hope Floats. My granddaughters love that movie," Norman says.

He most recently had a part on Prison Break on Fox.

Norman has stayed involved with the Sherman Community Players Theater for the past 50 years, starring in at least 30 plays and musicals.

"He has just a folksy kind of charm about him, he's so laid back, and you'd think someone that easy going wouldn't be able to get a laugh, but he can about anything," Cassady says.

Production director Ron Cassady says there are many more roles he'd like to see Norman play at the theater, and other actors agree. It's bittersweet to see him go.

"I’m going to miss ya like a front tooth!"

"Well, I’ll miss the people here at Channel 12, and the people I interviewed a lot. I'll miss Sherman Community Players down there," Norman says.

But his legacy will continue on in Sherman as his character and encouragement are hard to forget.

"He was the person that no matter what your day was like, going down the hall you were going to get a kind word and a smile," Holcomb says.

"I’ll miss my doctors, I’ll miss all the people I know at the grocery store and at the bank and everywhere around town because when you've lived here this long, I taught for 36 years and I think I’ve taught about half of Grayson County."

Years of building memories by his talent and charm, perhaps we are the lucky ones for knowing Norman Bennett.

Norman says one of his granddaughters is studying algebra now so he'll be able to help her with her math homework out in El Paso.

There were so many stories Norman and his friends had to share, it was too much to include on the telecast.

Click the videos at the top for the raw interviews and blogs on this terrific man.

The Norman Bennett and Guests show will run until the end of the year.

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