Of a heart attack while playing tennis, Norris McWhirter, 78, who in 1954 compiled the first Guinness World Records with his twin brother, Ross. The McWhirters, sons of a British newspaper editor who brought home 150 papers a week, worked as sportswriters before starting a business that sold obscure facts and figures to newspapers and advertising agencies. Their work caught the attention of Sir Hugh Beaver, the managing director of the Guinness brewery, who a few years earlier while hunting had gotten into a heated argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe—the golden plover or the red grouse.
Believing people might be interested in a reference work that would resolve such disputes, Beaver commissioned the brothers to compile a collection of world records. The first, relatively slender edition of the McWhirters' book, containing 8,000 entries, came out in August 1955 and was an immediate hit. In its 49 years the Guinness book has sold over 100 million copies, settled countless bar bets and inspired attention seekers around the world to grow a 56-inch thumbnail and spend 14 minutes spinning a frying pan on one finger. The McWhirters, who became public figures in the wake of the book's success, used their visibility to advocate conservative causes. In 1975 Ross offered rewards totaling $102,000 for I the capture of IRA terrorists responsible for a series of London bombings. He was assassinated outside his home shortly afterward, and the IRA claimed responsibility.
Norris, who presided over the continuing growth of the book (the most recent edition was translated into 37 languages) retired as Guinness editor in 1985. "He was a human dynamo," Roger Bannister, a close friend, told The New York Times last week. "My family and I will miss him more than I can say."