In Memoriam: 1990 NAR President Norman D. Flynn

June 9, 2021

The fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, coincided with Norman D. Flynn’s installation as 1990 president of the National Association of REALTORS®. In some ways, it was a defining moment for Flynn, who spent many years working to advance the concepts of organized real estate and private property rights in Eastern Bloc countries where those ideas had not yet flourished.

Flynn, who was a real estate investment broker, died last Friday at his home in Monona, Wisc. He was 79.

The Voice

Norm Flynn

© National Association of REALTORS®

At a National Press Club event in Washington, D.C., in 1990, Norm Flynn talks with reporters about housing affordability. The 1990s were a time of general economic prosperity, yet an estimated 30% of households were cost-burdened, meaning more than 30% of their gross income went toward homeownership or rental costs.

Flynn discovered a passion for debate while attending the University of Wisconsin. He married his wife, Susan, in 1964, and for a short time, they both taught English at a high school in the town of La Crosse. The couple later moved to Madison, where Flynn was a high school speech teacher and renowned debate coach while simultaneously studying for a postgraduate degree in communications and starting a family.

It was his talent for public speaking that opened the door to a career in real estate. “In 1970, I was recruited out of the classroom by a guy who had bought a franchise with the notion of putting together a national network of investment real estate companies,” Flynn told the former publication Real Estate Today in 1990. “This approach required conducting seminars, but he didn’t like public speaking. I had met him in church, where I had done a fair amount of talking. So, at the right time in my life, he asked me to do the seminars.”

Flynn soon earned a real estate broker’s license, specializing in investment properties. And in 1978, he founded his own firm, Norman D. Flynn Associates, Inc.

The National Association of REALTORS® chose “The Voice for Real Estate” as its theme in late 1989. There was perhaps no one more appropriate than Norm Flynn to make that voice heard as he stepped up to the role of president. “Norm was without a doubt a brilliant communicator, one of the most gifted speakers and presenters we’ve ever seen,” recalls 1992 NAR President Dorcas Helfant-Browning. “He encouraged and mentored all of us on his team to ensure we had a unified message and stayed on point.  He could reach out to people with such warmth and care.”

Flynn’s daughter, Andrea Flynn Mogensen, agrees.  “Every single person I’ve spoken to about my dad has talked about how he mentored them and encouraged them. People know about his leadership skills, but it’s his cheerleading skills that made him so memorable,” she says.

Under Flynn’s leadership, the association called on both Congress and the media to focus their attention on the growing issue of housing affordability and created the Housing Needs Committee, now the Housing Opportunity Committee, to help direct NAR’s affordability initiatives. NAR successfully advocated for changes to passive loss rules that unfairly penalized real estate professionals and helped implement regulations to standardize real estate appraisals, among other issues.

As a commercial investment broker himself, Flynn recognized that the association could do much more to serve its members who specialize in areas other than residential real estate. He helped form and directed the Commercial Committee to develop policies and programs specifically for commercial practitioners. In November 1990, the Board of Directors also approved a proposal to create the CCIM Institute, an affiliate for commercial specialists.

Flynn called on all REALTORS® to become more proactive politically to bring about positive changes in the industry. “You don’t make business in the real estate industry by sitting behind a desk,” he said. “You meet and participate with people. By getting involved in politics, you can create a fantastic business network.”

A Momentous Change

Events seemingly far removed from the U.S. real estate industry in 1989 and 1990 helped set the direction of Flynn’s career in the decades following his NAR presidency. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and breakup of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations brought new opportunities for REALTORS® to provide their expertise in the areas of private property rights and organized real estate.

NAR hosted the United Nations’ Third International Shelter Conference in Washington, D.C., in 1990, giving Flynn a chance to meet with housing officials from Russia, China, Hungary, and Poland. Through the conference and subsequent visits to Moscow and other cities, Flynn understood that REALTORS®’ expertise would be required in order to help countries “face the staggering change to private real estate markets after decades of state ownership,” he wrote in a Real Estate Today commentary.

To that end, in 1992, the Eastern European Real Property Foundation was established under his leadership, providing strategic advice in building organized real estate markets and making property ownership accessible to citizens of the former Communist nations. The Foundation later expanded its mission beyond Eastern Europe and was renamed the International Real Property Foundation, now part of IHC Global.

Over 20 years, Flynn served as the foundation’s president, chairman, and CEO, traveling to dozens of nations, including Armenia, South Africa, Ukraine, Russia, China, India, and Vietnam. He helped establish more than 80 trade organizations representing real estate interests around the world, with a goal of spreading standards of practice and helping emerging countries develop more mature, stable economies.

“Dad’s teaching background was essential to the success of his association work internationally,” says Mogensen. “It gave him the ability to effectively explain real estate and governance concepts to people who were unfamiliar with them.”

“That’s his real legacy—all of the progress Norm brought to the international real estate scene,” says longtime friend and fellow Wisconsinite Bill Malkasian, who served as CEO of the Wisconsin REALTORS® for 36 years and later as chief advocacy officer for NAR. “We went into places where there was no private ownership of property, no titles, no appraisals, no real estate professionals—basically real estate was traded on the black market. Norm made lasting connections and introduced the concepts that form the basis of our own REALTOR® organization to set up trade associations and build the real estate markets in those countries.”

In 1991, Flynn helped establish NAR’s International Operations program and committee, filling a need for member information and services when one of the association’s affiliates, FIABCI-USA, split off to become an independent organization. At Helfant-Browning’s request, Flynn served as the committee’s chair during its initial year in 1992. “His presence on the committee immediately brought the global market to attention and attracted REALTORS® to the new program,” Helfant-Browning says. “He gave the committee a sense of credibility that allowed it to make major contributions right from the start.”

Flynn also assisted in developing the Global Ambassador program, a network of NAR members who act as liaisons to real estate professionals in their assigned countries.

In addition to serving as president of NAR, Flynn was president of the Greater Madison Board of REALTORS® in 1977 and the Wisconsin REALTORS® in 1983, and he served on the advisory boards of the U.S. Small Business Administration and Fannie Mae. He was recognized as one of the 25 most influential people in real estate by REALTOR® Magazine in 2004, named to the Residential Real Estate Council’s Hall of Leaders in 2009, and presented with a lifetime achievement award by his state association in 2019. He was also honored with numerous awards and recognitions by real estate organizations in the countries that he assisted.

Flynn is survived by his wife of over 55 years, Susan; his children, Melanie, Andrea, and David; many grandchildren, nieces, and nephews; and countless dear friends all over the world.