Norman Centlivers Chase was the son of Henry Chase and his wife Mary Amelia MacOwan. His mother was the eldest daughter of botanist Peter MacOwan*,and her younger sister was married to Dr Selmar Schonland*, Director of Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Chase was educated in Uitenhage and after working in an attorney's office for some time was employed by the Standard Bank. There he remained for his entire career, rising to the position of bank manager. He resided in Kimberley for some years, but in 1933 moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and later became a Zimbabwean citizen. Before or in 1943 he moved to Umtali (now Mutare), where he lived in a hotel for the rest of his life. He retired in 1943, at the age of 55 and in good health. He was a gentle person, most meticulous in all that he did, and was not married.
Chase started collecting plants as a young adult and his uncle, Dr Schonland, reported that he collected Sterculia alexandri in 1908. On weekends he used to go camping in the Winterberg with friends and cousins and presumably collected plants. In 1912, while still residing in Uitenhage, he presented plants to the Albany Museum. During his whole lifetime he collected some 8500 specimens, most of them after his retirement. During his retirement years he went out into the veld around Mutare almost daily. As he had no transport he walked wherever he went, though sometimes people would take him out to their farms. Over the years his hotel room was largely filled with plants, presses and paper. In later years he became interested particularly in ferns. The Museum Society of Umtali conferred on him honorary curatorship of their Murawa's Hill conservation project and for several years he went to work there daily, travelling on a museum bicycle. Although he was nearly blind towards the end of his life he continued botanising to the last. His plant specimens went mainly to the National Herbariums in Harare and Pretoria and to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England. Many Zimbabwean plants were named after him.