Van Norman: Retirement ‘another step in my life’

Published 12:19 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

Vicksburg Public Works Director Garnet Van Norman’s last day with the city is May 30, ending an almost 33-year career as city engineer and public works director.

“I’ll be 70 years old in June and I’ve got all that time with the city,” Van Norman said. “I decided it was time.”

“Garnet has been one of the most loyal and dedicated employees for this city that there ever could have been,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “He has enormous intelligence about this city. He practically grew up in this city and you don’t replace Garnet with a new employee.”

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Ward 2 Alderman Alex Monsour said it has been an honor to know Van Norman.

“His vast knowledge of the city of Vicksburg and knowing where everything is, is going to be sorely missed and hard to replace,” Monsour said. “He served the city well and we wish him the best in retirement.”

Van Norman’s longevity with the city wasn’t always a guarantee, he said. Two weeks after he came to work as the city engineer in 1990 under then-Mayor Robert Walker, Van Norman wasn’t sure he wanted to stay.

“They had annexation back in the late ’80s; they needed somebody to watch over all the projects and that’s what they brought me in for,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to make it two weeks, but I made it. It was different; I came out of the private sector going into the public and it didn’t jive well with me, but I stayed. My dad (who also served as Vicksburg public works director) told me, he said, ‘You need to think about retirement.’ He said they had good retirement. I listened to my father.”

In 2013, Van Norman was named interim public works director by then-Mayor Paul Winnfield. The interim title was removed after Flaggs took office later that year. By that time, Van Norman said, “I was running everything anyway.”

Becoming public works director was interesting, Van Norman said, adding he had an advantage when he took the job.

“I worked for an engineering company that worked for Vicksburg since the ’70s and I already knew everything and I knew everybody, so it worked out real good,” he said.

He said his father gave him one other piece of advice.

“I remember my dad, when I took that job, said, ‘You need to figure out that flood wall and you need to figure it out now.’ In 2011 (when the flood level exceeded the 1927 record) it was amazing, but we handled it,” he said.

Van Norman said he will miss the interaction with the city workers, saying, “I got along with all of them; I will miss all of them.”

And while he won’t be in his office, he said, he’ll still be available to help Assistant Public Works Director Dane Lovell and the mayor.

“I’ll help anybody that wants my help,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m going to sign a contract to go back into some consulting work.”

“I’m really sorry to see him go; he’s been a real fixture in Vicksburg for years and I guess he finally made the decision to go on in,” Ward 1 Alderman Michael Mayfield said of Van Norman’s retirement. “I just appreciate what he’s been able to do for the city; you won’t find too many areas in this city that he doesn’t know something about, especially when it comes to the engineering side of infrastructure.”

Mayfield said Van Norman was always open with him, calling Van Norman “a teacher — if you’re willing to learn he would teach you, and I’m very proud that he was able to retire.

“He did his time, he’s going home and I really hope and pray that he enjoys his life from this point on,” Mayfield added. “I think you will find that the citizens of Vicksburg as a whole will thank him for what he’s done keeping this city up and going. He’s been able to keep his hand on the pulse. When you can keep your finger on the pulse of the infrastructure, then you’ve actually done a whole lot for the city and he’s done that.”

Van Norman said he’s looking forward “to doing whatever I want to do. I’m just taking it one day at a time; it’s another step in my life, I’ll put it that way. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. It’s time to move into another phase.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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