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Honoring Normand: Hope, Belief, Support, the Ending Chapter

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If you are a regular reader of Priority Learning’s newsletter, you may have followed the story of Normand Dubreuil’s diagnosis of stage four lung cancer in June, 2013 and his subsequent journey through a maze of medical treatments including intensive chemotherapy and radiation. 

Through seven articles written from May, 2014 to July, 2015, Normand shared the touching story of his emotions and his faith, the soaring highs and the gut-wrenching lows, from the shock of diagnosis through endless protocols, extreme fatigue and weakness, and the miserable impact of strong medications on his body. He shared his story with characteristic humility, honesty, and optimism. He gave us an up-close view, in sometimes heart-breaking detail, of improvement, setbacks, recovery, and short-lived remission.

He told his story with the incredible strength and fortitude of a remarkable man maintaining his sense of hope, belief, and support over a nearly four year battle with a terrible illness. 

It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that I share the news that after a long and valiantly fought battle, Normand succumbed to his cancer on September 10, 2017. 

Normand’s most recent article was entitled A New Frontier and can be found here: It was published in January, 2017. At that time he shared the experience of his seizure and setback of the previous year. He mentioned that it was a trying year, and yet he was full of hope and ready for a better 2017. Sadly, this was not to be.

I had the privilege of assisting Normand with writing a section of his last article on the details of his seizure that he could not recall. I was honored to be asked to help him fill in some of the blanks, and we had a wonderful opportunity talk about how he was doing and spend some time laughing over his behavior at a very frightening time. If you knew Norm, you can understand why he was so embarrassed that he was even slightly combative with the EMTs when they arrived that day. Normand didn’t have a combative cell in his body.

As we talked about the article, he thought it was especially funny when I suggested I might write that he was cursing at me in my office, just to spice the story up a little. “I’m not sure anyone would believe that,” he chuckled at me. “That's the beauty of it,” I insisted with a grin, “We’ll drive up the readership traffic of the Priority Learning website with gratuitous profanity and you’ll get blamed!” 

We laughed and laughed. Then he shook his head and told me no. He was right. The guy kept me on the straight and narrow path whether I wanted to be or not, because it was the path he had chosen and one from which he never faltered. I am so fortunate to have called him a good friend. 

You see, I’m not sure I ever met a kinder, gentler, more values-driven and devout man than Normand Dubreuil. His faith sustained him and was unshakable. He was thoughtful and appreciative. Even during some of his most difficult days, he made sure he got birthday cards out to his friends. I will keep that last birthday card as a reminder of the unlikely friendship that we forged in fire about six years ago. We became trusted friends over some really difficult conversations as we put aside our differences to help build and guide a sustainable organizational culture that we both considered to be one of our greatest professional achievements. 

What I don’t want is for Normand to be remembered only for losing his battle with cancer. I will remember him as a spirited fighter who was stronger than most, and a man who did his best to protect others from harm. He was so much more than the bad break that life handed to him over the past four years. While I don’t know every part of Normand’s story, I got to know him well in recent years and it changed my approach to leadership, friendship, and people. Sometimes the greatest gifts are something that we don’t immediately recognize. 

I first met Normand in the early 90’s. I interviewed with him for a position at Maine State Employees’ Credit Union that went to someone else. I was a little short on experience at the time, and probably a little cocky. About three years later, just after he was named the credit union’s new President and CEO, I interviewed again and was offered a position leading a growing loan department. It was the opportunity I was looking for, and the work was challenging and fun. I didn’t work directly for Normand, but was part of his leadership team and interacted with him often. 

I wish I could tell you this is a happily-ever-after story. The truth is that we struggled to understand each other’s work styles and personalities and didn’t make much progress over the next 15 or so years. The credit union was successful and growing, but our team struggled to communicate and appreciate each other’s strengths. Avoiding difficult conversations and confrontation was more common that it should have been. I found it quite frustrating. Then my supervisor retired, and I was reporting directly to Normand. As much as we tried, it didn’t go very well for a while. We were both pretty set in our ways, with some less-than-favorable perceptions of each other, and determined to do things our own way. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t think like me, and he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t try to be more like him. 

In hindsight, it was a recipe for disaster. Mostly for me. It was also the perfect storm brewing for what was next, our decision to engage the services of Priority Learning for an organizational culture initiative beginning in 2011. I wasn’t immediately convinced that this was a great idea. I’m a skeptic by nature, after all. But things were not good. It was time to change our ways and try something different. Anyway, I was completely convinced that I could outlast my team, or anyone else, should we be subject to any type of concocted ‘Hell Week’ training in the name of culture. I certainly didn’t expect Normand to be one of the few standing by me when things got dicey, and yet when push came to shove, there he was.

I’m not sure that Norm or I, or any of our team members, had any idea what we were headed for under the guidance and wisdom of our mutual friend, Ralph Twombly, and the good people of Priority Learning. In retrospect, I believe it was probably the most difficult and rewarding time of both of our careers. We were both blistered by feedback about our leadership, behaviors, and shortcomings. Fortunately, we were also determined to make amends, especially to each other, and to learn how to be better leaders. It took time, difficult conversations, sincere apologies, and humble requests for help. I learned how much I had underestimated his knowledge, his strength, his belief in people, and the size of his heart. 

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a leader, or ever will again, who could look me in the eye and admit “I have not been a good leader for you. I’m not sure I know how to be the leader you need. Help me lead you; tell me what you need.” These words, along with my own apology for not fulfilling my responsibility to lead up and be loyal, and maybe for a tiny bit of arrogance, changed everything. Some of the conversations were still difficult, and painful, but they were also thoughtful and caring and delivered from the heart. 

We started to talk about our fears and vulnerabilities, and recognize and praise each other’s strengths. We shared our hopes and beliefs and our learning, and helped each other get better. I came to respect and admire Normand’s work ethic, his rock-solid values, and his dedication to his beautiful family. 

I’ve never seen anyone so determined to be a better writer and speaker. He helped me as well, with my permission counting my “um’s and ah’s” in every presentation I gave so I could improve. He was a great coach and I loved his feedback. I still pushed back, but gently and with affectionate humor rather than exasperation and sarcasm. What I also learned was some background behind his struggles to master English. As it turns out, he spoke only French until he went to school, so English was his second language. He always felt a little insecure about his limited education and his timid nature as a child that kept him behind in school. 

While we still had our moments of frustration, we developed a mutual respect and affection for each other and for our credit union work. Culture became our shared language. I was deeply honored when he asked me to take over his role as cultural champion when he became ill, and he never failed to ask how our cultural work was progressing. I did everything I could to make him laugh when I learned that he actually appreciated my quirky humor. The man could not tell a joke to save himself, but he loved a good laugh…just without the profanity. 

Normand taught me to look a little deeper with people, to be a little nicer, and to believe in people and inspire them to be their best selves rather than to see them for what they are not. It was an amazing gift from an extraordinary man. Normand became the leader I needed, and showed me how to live and die with strength and dignity. He never gave up his wonderful combined sense of hope, belief, and gratitude. He set the bar high. He will be fondly remembered for seeing the best in all of us.

The world is down one good man.

4.56 (9)


Deb Sparrow
Maine State Credit Union
Senior Vice President/CLO

Deb is Senior Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Maine State Credit Union, the largest credit union in Maine. She directs the lending and collections functions and has served in a senior leadership role at the credit union for over 18 years. She has more than 27 years of experience in all types of lending. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Priority Learning's Executive Leadership series.



Submit A Comment:


I'm so sad to hear about Norm passing! He was such a great man and he will be missed dearly. Your article is a perfect tribute and end to the Hope, Faith, Belief and Support series.

Beautifully written...thanks for sharing...
Jeanne Moreau

Deb - thank you for this wonderful insight of Norm, and you, too -
Lee Cabana


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