Distinguished pilot alumnus leads homecoming parade

By Elizabeth zinchuk

The first African American quarterback to wear the Saluki maroon, and first African American captain for United Airlines will be the grand marshal for the 2013 homecoming parade.

William Norwood, originally from Centralia, received his bachelor’s degree from SIU in 1959. During his time at SIU, he was a three-year starter as SIU’s first African-American quarterback and has been inducted into the Saluki Hall of Fame.

Norwood said he has nothing but fond memories of SIU.


“My time at SIU was great,” Norwood said. “I got a good education, was able to play athletics, I was on a scholarship for football.”

Norwood said his football coaches and teammates left a lasting impact on him and his college football career was a positive one.

“We had a pretty good football team at the time so we wound up improving every year,” Norwood said.

Carver Shannon, a graduate of 1962, was a running back for SIU and has stayed friends with Norwood throughout the year.

Shannon said Norwood was one of the first people he met on campus.

“Bill is such a personable guy so we became friends,” he said.

“He knew how to get things done and was always smart,” Shannon said. “That’s why he was quarterback, because he knew how to get things done.”


Norwood was additionally a member of the ROTC while at SIU and has been inducted into the SIUC ROTC Hall of Fame. After graduation, Norwood served in the Air Force from 1959 to 1965. He then began a 31-year career with United Airlines as the first African-American pilot to fly with United. In 2007 Norwood was inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame.

Besides getting an education, Norwood said SIU was the place that built the foundation for his career as a pilot.

“Getting my flight training there helped me when I got out of college in the Air Force, which then led me to get my wings in primary and basic,” Norwood said. “I got great instruction while I was down in fight training at SIU and it prepared me to be an excellent pilot.”

Norwood said his training made all the difference in the world in regards to his flight career.

Norwood was the first African American pilot hired at United Airlines, but was also the first to achieve the rank of captain. He said a large part of him getting a job at United Airlines was due to the Civil Right Act of 1964 that made major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women illegal.

“It was fortuitous that the Civil Rights law of 1964 was passed because prior to that time, there were no African American flying passenger carrying airlines in the United State up until 1964 when that law was passed,” Norwood said.

Norwood was a member of the SIU Board of Trustees from 1974-2001. He is also a lifetime member of the Alumni Association. He and his wife have established scholarships from SIUC students such as the William R. Norwood Scholarship. He also is a recipient of the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the College of Science Alumni Achievement Award.

As grand marshal to the 2013 homecoming parade, Norwood said he is happy to take part in a SIU tradition.

“It’s exciting, I’m very honored and humbled to come back and be grand marshal,” Norwood said. “It’s an outstanding opportunity and I feel very grateful and gratified to do it.”

Norwood said he has returned to campus many times since he graduated and saw a lot of changes during those visits as well as his time as a Board of Trustees member. Despite those changes, he still considers SIU to be the same in regards to quality.

“It’s still SIU and still has the high reputation for giving a good education,” Norwood said.

College is not easy, he said, but it is a good time.

Norwood said his connections at SIU have continued and will last a lifetime.

“That experience I had at SIU and the people I met and interacted closely are still my lifelong friends,” Norwood said.

Don Castle, advisor to the student programming council who helped nominate Norwood for grand marshal, said being grand marshal is an honorary title.

“It is designed to offer recognition to those alumni who have served SIU well either in their careers and personal accomplishments or in service to the university and community,” Castle said.

Castle said Norwood is a great example of everything a grand marshal should be.

“Bill Norwood is one of the best examples I have seen to represent what the grand marshal truly means,” Castle said.

Castle said the 2013 homecoming theme is “Unleash the Legend.” Norwood’s title as grand marshal fits the theme, Castle said.