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  • Writer's pictureCatherine White

ExPats: Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue, In Memoriam

“The Very Best of Elmira” to be Honored with Memorial and Scholarship Fund

By Catherine White, Managing Editor, Southern Tier Life with information and photographs provided by William Freeman and Friends of The Norman A. Mordue Memorial and Scholarship Fund

Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue was an Elmira and Syracuse University star football player who played in the footsteps of the legendary Ernie Davis, and married his high school sweetheart, Christina Peterson. He lived a life of courage, justice, and public and community service. Judge Mordue died in December at age 80 after a short illness.

Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue, Vietnam veteran and former Elmiran died in December 2022. He is survived by his wife, Christina and sons, Danny, on left, and Michael, pictured below Judge Mordue’s vault at Woodlawn National Cemetery.

“Norman was a natural leader,” said William Freeman, a friend and classmate of the late judge. “He was always a leader, from the first time I knew him.”

Bill first met Norman through his cousins, who lived on the same street as him on Elmira’s southside.

“We played in small fry baseball together, and also played church league basketball together,” he recalled.

“We became friendlier as time went by. We played football together – he was a big success on the football field. I was not and left Southside High School football in my sophomore year,” he said, chuckling.

Bill remembers Norman demonstrating leadership from an early age, first on the athletic fields of Elmira’s school districts throughout his school career then on the battlefield during the Vietnam War. He attended school at the same time as Ernie Davis, playing for Southside High School and actually leading the Green Hornets to win the Erie Bell! It’s something they hadn’t been able to do for several years.

“He was the quarterback and we won the game in the final minutes — he threw a touchdown pass to Keith LaComb that won the game. It’s remembered to this day by Southside grads,” he said, recalling the glory of the 1959 high school football highlight.

Top, left to right: Norman Mordue played quarterback for Southside High School in 1959, pictured with Joe Holly, center, and Coach Tom Hurley overlooking; Norman wearing his #45 Syracuse University jersey; Platoon Commander Lt. Norman Mordue in Vietnam. Bottom, left to right: Lt. Norman Mordue (center) being promoted to First Lieutenant, First Lt. Norman Mordue being promoted to Captain following partial recovery of wounds; First Lt Norman Mordue being greeted by his wife and former high school sweetheart Christina Peterson Mordue at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he was recovering from wounds.

Later, after completing ROTC and basic training, Norman’s leadership skills again came into play when he was deployed to Vietnam. While serving as platoon leader he led a charge to relieve enemy pressure on another platoon sustaining serious injury while maintaining focus, control and helping the American soldiers under fire reach safety.

Norman was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star with Valor, Air Medal, Combat Infantryman's Badge and Purple Heart for his incredible acts of bravery and leadership.

Following two years in military hospitals undergoing multiple surgeries and months of therapy relearning how to walk, Norman was released from active duty as a result of his grievous wounds as a Captain in the US Army Reserves.

Unsure of what to do next, since he had planned a life in the military, Norman entered Syracuse Law School. He did this because of an aptitude test he’d taken in the military which showed that he had an affinity for the law.

“When Norman learned that he said that he’d never thought about law but he knew some lawyers and he figured that if they could do it, so could he,” Bill said, chuckling at the memory.

Norman ended up graduating near the top of his class, and joined the Onondaga Prosecutor's Office where he led the prosecution of homicides and violent crimes. He had the distinguished record of prosecuting 16 murder trials resulting in 16 victories, including the famous Garrow serial murder case. His courtroom presence was so memorable that Norman's brilliant courtroom prosecution is described in a book that was written about this infamous serial killer.

Norman proceeded to become Onondaga County Judge, New York Supreme Court Judge and Chief Federal Judge of the Northern District of New York. He was a mentor and positive example to most of those he came into contact with throughout his notable law career.

Karen Felter, a partner with the Syracuse law firm Smith Solvik, was a colleague and worked for Judge Mordue for 15 years.

"He literally lived multiple lives in different times and places. Judge Mordue is the kind of person they make movies about. It was the honor and blessing of my lifetime to work for the Judge," she wrote in a touching tribute for his memorial.

Despite the heights of accomplishment he reached in his life, Norman never forgot where he came from nor his friends. He loved Elmira and relished returning to the region for visits.

He was a star athlete, an American patriot and war hero who saved numerous lives while injured and under fire. Norman was also a remarkable jurist while mentoring hundreds of employees, future lawyers and judges. He was a terrific husband, father and friend. He loved Elmira where his roots were strong and he was a very frequent visitor that he credited for educating and nurturing him.

“Everything he tried he did well,” Bill said. “Not only that, he was a terrific human being.”

His friends have formed a non-profit charitable organization, The Norman A. Mordue Memorial and Scholarship Fund to raise about $600,000.00 to initially establish an endowment providing local scholarships to promising area students. A portion of the funds will also be used to establish a Memorial as a Legacy to this remarkable man's life achievements, and serving to inspire future young Elmirans and Chemung County youth generations to come.

Designers’ concept of Judge Mordue Memorial in a landscaped setting.

To contribute you may send checks to The Norman A Mordue Memorial and Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 374, Pine City, NY 14871. A website, where people can learn more about Judge Mordue and his extraordinary life, and make donations to the memorial and scholarship fund, is being created.

Visit this link to read the Times Union front page obituary on the extraordinary life of former Elmiran Chief Judge Norman Mordue.



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