Norman Pidgeon, 87; expert in legislative rules

Norman Pidgeon (left), clerk of the Massachusetts Senate, was an expert parliamentarian who helped lawmakers.
Norman Pidgeon (left), clerk of the Massachusetts Senate, was an expert parliamentarian who helped lawmakers.

Amid partisan wrangling and procedural jockeying on Beacon Hill, Norman L. ­Pidgeon was an expert on ­parliamentary procedure for decades.

He first went to work in the House clerk’s office in the Massa­chusetts Legislature ­after World War II. He helped Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill run the Massachusetts House in 1949, when O’Neill was House speaker on Beacon Hill, before heading to his eventual post as House speaker in Washington, D.C. Mr. Pidgeon, meanwhile worked his way up to Senate clerk on Beacon Hill by 1967.

“He was a great guy,” said David M. Bartley, a former House speaker in Massachusetts, recalling an era when Mr. Pidgeon minded the Senate and Wallace Mills was clerk of the House.


“The job of a clerk is a very high-pressure job,” Bartley said. “There’s enough problems caused by the House and ­Senate members in the debates they have. The clerks have to be certain of everything, and ­Norman and Wally were complete professionals.”

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Mr. Pidgeon, a longtime Walpole resident who in recent years lived in Bradenton, Fla., died Jan. 17 of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to his son Steven. He was 87.

In 1969, Robert L. Turner, a former Globe editor and reporter, spoke of Mr. Pidgeon’s skills while writing about how smoothly bills had progressed through the Legislature during that session. Mr. Pidgeon, “perhaps the most valuable single adjutant to the Legislature, is an expert on orderly procedure,” Turner wrote.

Mr. Pidgeon’s career was cut short by debilitating migraines at a time when treatment ­options were few. He at one point had collapsed in the ­Senate chamber.

In his resignation letter in 1973, Mr. Pidgeon expressed gratitude to the Legislature.


“The honorable members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives have been kind, considerate, and most understanding, especially when my sickness caused me to be less than jovial and personable,” Mr. Pidgeon wrote.

He was the first clerk in the history of the Massachusetts Legislature to receive the designation “official parliamentarian,” and he worked for several more years as a consultant.

When the state Senate ­adjourned on Jan. 22, an announce­ment read in Mr. ­Pidgeon’s honor said he “was a tough taskmaster but all who worked for him will attest that his competence, dedication, ­integrity, and work ethic were second to none.”

Current Senate Clerk ­William F. Welch recalled working for Mr. Pidgeon.

“He brought me into this ­office,” Welch said. “He set the standard. We still do things with the same work ethic and perform the same functions he taught me in the 1970s.”


Mr. Pidgeon insisted that his staff know how to perform several jobs so those who sought assistance from the clerk’s ­office could be served if one staff member was away, Welch said.

Born in 1925, Mr. Pidgeon grew up in Franklin. He joined the US Army during World War II and served in the Philippines.

He was married for more than 60 years to the former Dorothy Holmquist.

In addition to his wife and son, both of Paradise Valley, Ariz., Mr. Pidgeon leaves two daughters, Sandra Shute of Ruskin, Fla., and Nancy of ­Palmetto, Fla.; and seven grandchildren.

A service has been held. Burial will be private.

Mr. Pidgeon worked with Maurice ­Donahue and Kevin Harrington, Senate presidents.

When he gave up the $33,600 per year clerk’s job in 1973 and retired at age 48, Mr. Pidgeon was lauded by ­Harrington, then the Senate president. “His personal integrity is of the highest order,” said Harrington, who died in 2008.

In the 1970s, Mr. Pidgeon wrote manuals. His work “Procedural Manual on Punishment of Members” is still used as a resource, Welch said.

J.M. Lawrence can be reached at