Norman Ray Bridwell, beloved author of Clifford the Big Red Dog, dead at 86

Norman Bridwell poses with his beloved creation, Clifford the Big Red Dog.

Norman Ray Bridwell of Edgartown, who brought delight to millions of readers young and old as the author of Clifford the Big Red Dog series of books, died on Friday, December 12, at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He was 86.

Norman Bridwell in his Edgartown studio. File photo by Ralph Stewart.
Norman Bridwell in his Edgartown studio. File photo by Ralph Stewart.

Norman Bridwell was born in Kokomo, Indiana, in 1928, according to a biography by Scholastic Books. He studied at the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis and Cooper Union Art School in New York before working as a commercial artist for 12 years.

In 1962 Mr. Bridwell found himself having to support a wife and infant daughter on extra money he picked up doing freelance artwork. He considered supplementing his income by illustrating picture books. An editor at Harper & Row advised him that he might find success by writing a story about one of his pictures. Because of his young daughter, Bridwell chose to write a story about an illustration he had made of a little girl and a big red bloodhound. He decided to make the dog very big and more of a general, all-around dog instead of a bloodhound. Mr. Bridwell wanted to name the dog Tiny, but his wife thought the name too boring. She suggested the name Clifford, after an imaginary play friend from her own childhood. With that settled, Norman Bridwell decided to name the little girl in his book after his own daughter, Emily Elizabeth, and within a few days he completed his story. Three weeks after submitting his story and illustrations to Scholastic Books, the publishers called with an offer to publish his work.

Forty titles and 60 million copies later, Clifford the Big Red Dog is a well-known and beloved character to the preschool set.

Norman Bridwell gave generously of his time and was an annual contributor to the Possible Dreams auction, the major fundraiser for Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Island’s social services umbrella agency.

He was the husband of Norma (Howard) Bridwell and father of Tim Bridwell and Emily Bridwell Merz. A memorial service will be held in the summer of 2015 and a complete obituary will follow in a future edition of The Times.

Arrangements are under the care of the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home, Edgartown Road, Oak Bluffs. Visit for online guest book and information.