Norman Albert Carlson


August 10th 1933 - August 09th 2020


Virtual Celebration of Life for

Norman Albert Carlson

from Saturday, September 26th 2020

Image by Crystal de Passillé-Chabot


Norman Albert Carlson

Norman A. Carlson, beloved father, grandfather, and highly esteemed professional, died August 9, 2020 at Mayo Hospital in Phoenix after a very brief illness. An extraordinarily humble man, Norm’s life is a profound legacy of many accomplishments fueled by his incredible hard work, exceptional leadership, kindness, generosity, and dedication to family and community. Norm was born August 10, 1933 in Sioux City, Iowa to Albert Noah Carlson and Esther Hollander Carlson. With his Swedish heritage and midwestern roots, Norm held many jobs throughout his youth. He graduated from Central High School in 1951 and attended Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, MN., where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology. While at Gustavus, he met and later married Patricia H. Musser of Fairmont, MN.


Norm received his Master’s Degree in Criminology from the University of Iowa and began working in the State of Iowa’s corrections department. From there, he was encouraged to join the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Pat and he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas and then onto Ashland, Kentucky before being transferred to the main office in Washington, D.C. to work on then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s new halfway house program. During those years he and Pat expanded their family with the births of daughter Cindy and son Gary. Quickly advancing, he became the Executive Assistant to the Director in 1964. When the Director announced his retirement in 1970, Norm was chosen by then Attorney General John Mitchell to be his replacement. At only 36 years of age he became the fourth Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. During Norm’s 17-year tenure as Director he served under eleven different Attorneys General, and four Presidents, representing both political parties. As Director, he assumed a leadership position in the Department of Justice and participated at the Attorney General’s staff meetings with J. Edgar Hoover and other agency leaders within the Department. He served throughout the tumultuous Watergate era and ultimately had custody of those convicted, including the Attorney General who appointed him. Norm was credited with improving the Bureau of Prisons through many innovative and structural changes with the focus on protecting inmates, protecting staff and protecting the public. He championed consistency, fairness, and improved programs for inmates; expanded professionalism and training of staff; increased diversity in the workforce, encouraging women and minorities into corrections before it was required; and developed an independent research branch to monitor and track results of programs. 

In addition to his day to day responsibilities, Norm worked extensively with Congress and the Federal judiciary to address the needs of the Bureau. He was honored to serve on four delegations to United Nations’ conferences on crime prevention and he also served as President of the American Correctional Association (ACA). He was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Presidential Rank Award as Meritorious Executive in the Senior Executive Service, ACA's E.R. Cass Award, the Arthur S. Flemming Award, and the Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service. When he retired from the Bureau, he was responsible for 44,000 inmates in 47 correctional institutions with a staff of nearly 13,000. 

Upon retirement, Norm joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota's Department of Sociology and served as an adjunct professor until 1998. He also served as a Director of the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation and its successor, The GEO Group, from 1994 until 2016. He remained a Director Emeritus until his death. 

After his wife Pat’s death in 1994, Norm was reintroduced to a high school friend Phyllis Ideker Rohan and they were married in 1997. They resided in both Minnesota and Arizona and traveled extensively. Norm was very proud of the education he received and his family’s tradition of attendance at Gustavus Adolphus College, in St. Peter, Minnesota. Through his hard work and good fortune, he was able to establish the Norman A. and Patricia H. Carlson Scholarship Endowment Fund at Gustavus to assist students in the field of social sciences. Norm was preceded in death by his devoted wife of 34 years Patricia Carlson; his sister Lavonne Easley; and his second wife Phyllis Rohan. In addition to his dedication to career, Norm was a tremendously devoted family-man. He leaves behind a very proud family including: daughter Cindy Gustafson and her husband Wally Auerbach, grandson Erik Gustafson and his wife Melissa; son Gary and wife Martha Austin Carlson, grandsons Mitch and his wife Janie, and Tucker Carlson; and his stepchildren Diana Toon, and Ron and Brigid Anderson.


Photo Gallery

The gallery below is a tribute to Norman Albert Carlson

from his family and friends.



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In lieu of Flowers, Donations in

Norman Albert Carlson Memory 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Linnaeus Arboretum at Gustavus Adolphus College, where two trees grow in honor of Norm and Pat.

Cards may be sent to his children: Gary Carlson and Cindy Gustafson - 4018 Quentin Ave. South, St. Louis Park, MN 55416.