By Poncho Wilson
Mike Norman of Marietta mixed a stiff drink, and he didn’t mince words. As owner of Mulligan’s Food & Spirits on Roswell Street, Norman’s gruff, imposing exterior coupled with an affinity for motorcycles, biker culture and his longtime ties to Marietta’s American Legion Horace Orr Post 29 made him a natural fit for the scene.
“Mike spoke what other people whispered,” said longtime friend Jeff “Cowboy” Garland of Marietta, whose nickname derived from Norman’s observations that when Garland wasn’t riding into Mulligan’s on his 2001 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, he was instead wearing his trademark cowboy hat.
Mike Norman, 66, of Marietta, formerly of Sutallee and a Clinton, TN, native, died Friday of complications from lung cancer. A funeral service will be held Monday at Medford-Peden Funeral Home and Crematory on Canton Highway in Northeast Cobb at 2 p.m.
Behind Norman’s shaved pate and gray goatee that hung no less than 6 inches below his chin was an unwavering impetus to help others in need.
Norman’s bar is one of a very few in greater Marietta that regularly hosts charity motorcycle rides to raise money for the sick and needy and underprivileged children.
On any given Sunday a phalanx of motorcycles and riders can be seen filling Mulligan’s parking lot and spilling out onto the adjacent U-Haul property before they thunder down Roswell Road eastbound in tandem toward Cobb Parkway.
Norman’s eldest daughter, Kelleye Norman Greene of Hickory Flat, recalled her father as deeply loyal and endlessly attentive to both her and her younger sister, Brandi Nabors of Acworth. Norman and his wife, Dee, raised them in the expansive countryside of Sutallee in northwest Georgia.
Norman’s passion for helping others was equaled only in fervor to the sociopolitical opinions he unapologetically and often blatantly espoused in black plastic channel letters on the bar’s street side marquee that stands vigil over tidy rows of cornstalks.
Norman routinely bucked the system in true biker fashion with colorful and often controversial sign posts about illegal immigration and political demagoguery in an area that’s seen a large influx of Hispanic-owned businesses and residents.
Ironically, the bar itself was at one time a Taco Bell restaurant.
But illegal immigration and undocumented workers, no matter if they were from Mexico or Munich, were topics Norman regularly focused his highly visible and sometimes volatile public opinions upon.
It was Norman’s consensus that undocumented workers often compete for and beat out native citizens for dwindling blue collar jobs that most of Mulligan's clientele hold and depend upon to make a living, said Norman’s daughter Kelleye Norman Greene.
And day laborers or rogue contractors who hire them often work for a fraction of what traditional tax-declaring workers charge because the miscreants take cash under the table and then don't report the income, she added.
So the sign out front of Mulligan’s has become a sounding board of sorts for working class Americans—more specifically those in Norman’s circle—who’ve grown steadily frustrated with a government that seems more concerned about defending lawsuits from human rights organizations than standing up for the rights of its own citizens, Greene said.
“A lot of people who don’t know or didn’t know my dad only saw the superficial messages in that sign,” Greene said. “He was an amazing man, and he’d give anything to anyone who asked. And he was far from racist or bigoted. He stood for hard work and what’s right is right. And he let people know about it.”
Norman in mid-2008 drew national media attention and outrage from civil rights groups, prompting picket-line-style demonstrations in front of his bar, when he offered T-shirts depicting the Curious George cartoon monkey character with the slogan "Obama In '08" emblazoned across the chest.
But no message resonated more with Mulligan’s patrons than the sign’s boilerplate “Border Patrol Eats Free.” Norman was often seen wearing a replica Border Patrol green baseball cap if for nothing else than to make a statement.
“Mike was a giver not a taker,” said longtime friend Debbie Benedit of Waleska. “He touched the hearts, souls and minds of many—an incredible human being who had a heart of gold—and I am honored to have been his friend.”
“And he had the most beautiful blue eyes that could look right through you. They were beautiful, and they told his story,” said Norman’s youngest daughter, Brandi Nabors.
“Mike was always the first one to step up and help someone,” said longtime Mulligan’s patron Joy Ashby of Smyrna, whose ridden in countless numbers of Norman’s charity rides on her 2001 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy.
“But now it’s like Mike once said, ‘Bright camp fires don’t last long enough.’ ”