President's Circle Members: Norton and Irene Starr

Written by Julia Grimes, Stanback Fellow | Interview by Sarah Ikemoto, Development Manager | Published: March 11, 2024

Long-time Population Connection members Norton and Irene Starr have been supporting the organization at the President’s Circle level since 2005. Norton first became aware of Population Connection over 20 years ago, when he saw President and CEO John Seager give a talk at Amherst College, where Norton taught for 43 years. When asked why he chooses to support Population Connection, Norton says, “I regard the population explosion as a major problem, and I like Population Connection’s mission of zero population growth.”

Norton received his PhD in Mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1964, before going on to his long career at Amherst College. In addition to his work in mathematics, Norton excelled in graphic design. He became one of the first in his field to use computer graphics to better illustrate his lessons, and he had his designs published in several math and computer science texts.

Norton’s mathematical tendencies are epitomized by his collection of three-dimensional wooden puzzles, mostly by Stewart Coffin. He attends international puzzle conferences with Irene and has even designed a cubic puzzle, which he used in his classroom.

Irene received her BA and MS in Physics and subsequently continued her education to obtain an MEd in Instructional Media. After years of teaching collegiate physics, she transitioned to a career in technology management. In 2002, she retired as the Director of the Language Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, but she continues to teach, consult, and create. She has maintained websites for several nonprofits and has helped Norton showcase his work and graphic designs online.

Norton and Irene first met at a picnic in their hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and in 2024, they will celebrate their 65th anniversary! After Norton’s retirement from Amherst, the Starrs returned to Kansas City to be close to a son and his family. They continue to enjoy 3D wooden puzzles, and they complete the New York Times crossword often. Though Norton is the one who pioneered computer research during his career, Irene has become the neighborhood “tech guru,” helping their retirement community by answering technology questions. Beyond their interests in STEM, Norton has enjoyed decades of bicycling, while Irene continues to enjoy figure skating — an activity she has been passionate about since her first time on the ice in the late 1940s.

logo for population connection's president circle

We are deeply grateful for Norton and Irene’s continued President’s Circle level engagement and support. If you would like to learn more about our giving societies, contact our Development team at