Norman Rice obituary (1926 – 2021) – Albany, NY

Rice, Norman S. ALBANY Norman Shepard Rice, 95, a pillar of Albany’s cultural community for nearly seventy years, slipped away peacefully on October 22, 2021 in Albany. He was born in Salem, Massachusetts on August 11, 1926, the son of Bertram Upton Rice and Edith Williams Rice, and raised in nearby Marblehead. He received two degrees from Harvard University, a Bachelor of Arts in History and Fine Arts (1949) and a Master of Arts in Education (1951). After two years as a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Norman arrived at the Albany Institute of History & Art, where he would spend fourteen years as the inaugural curator of the collections (1953 – 1967) and the nineteen years as director of the Institute (1967 – 1986). A proud native of Essex County which has never lost its distinctive eastern Massachusetts accent, Norman completely embraced the Upper Hudson Valley, developing a deep and encyclopedic knowledge of its history, with a particular interest in its architecture and its fine and decorative arts, and a particular fascination for the men and women who have assembled large collections of cultural objects. Upon his arrival, Norman’s guide to the city was James Gwynn, an artist born and raised in Albany, who was his life partner for sixty-two years. The immaculately dressed couple were ubiquitous at conferences, celebrations, lunches, dinners, benefits and other events – especially any events at the Fort Orange Club – including those where Norman was honored or had been hired to speak. He was fluent in a wide variety of subjects, some discovered probably during two decades as an Albany City historian (1966 – 1987), and others simply the product of his boundless curiosity. Although the Albany Institute has always been his primary focus, Norman has established a holistic approach in his personal support to cultural organizations in the region. In addition to forty years of community service, he was concurrently an administrator or advisor to institutions at Hamilton College and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute east of the Rensselaer County Historical Society, the Berkshire Museum and the Williamstown Art Conservation. Center. Most of his board attendance, however, was in Albany, including the City’s Historic Resources Commission, Saint Andrews Society, Historic Albany Foundation, Society of Architectural Historians Turpin Bannister Chapter, Albany County. Historical Association, Shaker Heritage Society, Historic Cherry Hill, Albany Public Library, Friends of the New York State Library, and Albany Rural Cemetery, where he was the longest-serving trustee on the board and was often found in the field doing visits. Norman has also been a leader in planning major local commemorations, serving on the Albany Tercentennial Commission and the Albany Medical College 50th Anniversary Committee. He enthusiastically joined the commissions formed to restore and preserve the New York State Capitol, the New York State Senate Chamber, the Executive Mansion, and the Thomas Cole House in Catskill. He has organized dozens of exhibitions for the Albany Institute, authored scholarly catalogs of Albany silverware and New York furniture, wrote journal articles, contributed to his colleagues’ publications, and donated hundreds of ‘items in the Albany Institute museum and library collections. Recognized for these and other accomplishments, Norman received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Siena College in 1986. Reviewing his accomplishments, he was heard to say, “I don’t know how I got the job. time to do it all ”, but he did it all, and in a style all his own. Norman was predeceased by his partner, James E. Gwynn in 2015; and his brother, William Marshall Rice in 1999. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Ann Wilson Rice; nephews and nieces, William (Stephanie) Rice Jr., Peter (Nancy) Rice, Linda (Edward) Collins, Susan (Robert) McNeil and Dr James (Carol) Rice, all of Marblehead, several great-nieces and nephews, and by his many friends and colleagues whose lives, too, will never be the same without him. Everyone would like to thank Chuck Tiley for his unwavering support of Norman and Jim, as well as Sonya Barnes and the team of assistants who have cleared all obstacles in Norman’s path over the past two years. A funeral service will be held on Saturday, January 22, 2022 at 11 a.m. at All Saints Cathedral, 62 South Swan Street, Albany. Memorial contributions can be sent to the Norman Rice Memorial Fund, Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany, NY, 12210-2202. To leave Norman’s family a special message on their guestbook, get directions, or view other helpful services, please visit

Published by Albany Times Union November 20-21, 2021.

James C. Tibbs