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Norman Olson Jr., a founding partner of two law firms, dies at 90

Norman Olson Jr., a founding partner of two law firms, dies at 90
Norman Olson Jr. practiced law in Chicago for nearly a half-century. (Family photo)

Norman Olson Jr. practiced law in Chicago for nearly 50 years, about half of that as a founding partner of firms with his name on the door, including what is now Olson, Grabill & Flitcraft in Northbrook.

Olson's work there focused not on litigation but on what longtime partner Gregg Flitcraft called transactional work, estate planning and estate administration. For many years, he also provided legal counsel for several area park districts.

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Olson's approach to his legal work was simple, Flitcraft said. "He was a very good lawyer who really cared about his clients and tried to do the right thing whether it was the most financially rewarding for the firm or not."

Olson, 90, died May 16 at JourneyCare in Glenview of complications of dementia, according to his son David. He had lived for the last several years in Winnetka after many years in Kenilworth.

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Born in Oak Park and raised in Park Ridge, Olson graduated from what was then Maine Township High School and joined the Navy just as World War II was coming to an end.

Returning from service, he enrolled at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., graduating in 1950, his son said. He married Ann Brodie in 1951, and the couple soon moved to California.

By 1954, they had moved back to Illinois, where Olson entered the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign. Ann died in 1976.

Olson's father, Norman Olson Sr., was a successful Chicago attorney, and the younger Olson began his legal career at the LaSalle Street firm where his father's name was on the door — Ashcraft, Olson, Beach, Kimball, Alexander & Edmonds. The younger Olson's practice gradually shifted from general legal affairs to corporate law, estates and trusts. He became a partner of the firm in 1960.

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In 1978, he left to help found what was then Olson & Hoffman. It was that firm which eventually took on the name Olson, Grabill & Flitcraft.

In 1980, he married Katherine "Katie" Hodgson, who introduced him to White Lake, Mich., on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan north of Muskegon. Olson enjoyed canoeing, hiking, jogging and what his son called "a little golf" there. But his favorite pastime was sitting on his deck with his grandchildren admiring the view of the lake.

Olson also was active in skiing, fishing and hiking near his home in Snowmass, Colo., family members said.

Olson's law practice included work for several local municipalities. He was on the board of trustees of the village of Northfield, his son said. He did legal work for several area park districts, including the Elk Grove Park District and the Park Ridge Park District.

Flitcraft said he understood that work included going to regular board meetings, where Olson would be available to field questions from park board members on issues facing their organizations.

In August 2004, Olson suffered a severe stroke. He became a star patient at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. With remarkable determination — a trademark, family members said — he learned how to walk again. While the stroke had an impact on the remainder of his life, his family members said he never lost his indomitable spirit.

"It was something of a miracle he recovered as he did," David Olson said. Although his father made a remarkable recovery, he never returned to his law practice, his son said.

In addition to his son and wife, Katherine, Olson is survived by a daughter, Kristine; two other sons Jon and Todd; a brother, Donald; 15 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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Olson also is survived by his stepdaughter, Margot Hodgson; and stepsons Christopher Hodgson and Mark Hodgson.

A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. June 21 in Kenilworth Union Church, 211 Kenilworth Ave., Kenilworth.

Graydon Megan is a freelance reporter.

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