The Honorable John Smith “Johnny” Morris 1925-1991
Rosie Smith Morris, R. N. – July 15, 1973 Biloxi Daily Herald Full Page Article-“Life’s a challenge and mothering is greatest of all”
Biloxi Daily Herald
July 15, 1973
Life’s challenge and mothering is the greatest of all
By Pam O’Boyle -Daily Herald Women’s Editor
Tadpoles in the backyard sparked an appreciation for frogs that, through the years has produced a collection of 500 amphibians in the life of Mrs. Rosie Morris, Gulfport.
Yet Mrs. Morris’s whole life is quite a collection of anecdotes, courage and creativity. She is somewhere in her 70’s and going strong.
The frogs that line shelves in her dining room never were tadpoles but have been deliberate additions to a collection that began unintentionally.
However the tadpoles that started the whole thing were first brought home to 1711 Wisteria St., Gulfport, when Chancery Judge John S. Morris, Mrs. Morris’s oldest son and one of five children, was a little boy.
Mrs. Morris says, “John was the first of my children to start collecting tadpoles. After he grew out of it, others brought them home. I remember one afternoon he came home and put a whole bunch of the little things in a pool of water in our back yard.
“I objected and told him he wasn’t going to be able to keep them there, that the water would dry up. He insisted he would add water and they’d be okay. Well, the next morning, I woke up and there he was, out digging his little toes in the mud around that pool. The first thing he said to me was, ‘What’d you do with my frogs?’ They were all gone and he thought I’d done something because I had objected the day before. I told him I hadn’t done anything with his frogs, that probably some neighborhood cat had gotten them.
“As it turned out, “Mrs. Morris continues, “Two-three days later some neighbors said to me, ‘A funny thing happed the other morning. We saw whole droves of little frogs hopping toward the (drainage) canal!
“They were John’s tadpoles! He evidently had caught them at just the point where they were ready to become frogs and during the night they had just hopped out of the pond.
As other youngsters in her family brought home their tadpoles, Mrs. Morris got an old bathtub that she placed in the back yard in which to keep they. She became fascinated, herself, with the development of tadpoles into baby frogs.
One day in Woolworth’s she bought 10 glass frogs, each in a different position, just because she like frogs. “I remember they were 15 cents apiece because I paid $1.50 for all of them.
Years passed and all but one of those 10 was lost, either by breakage or disappearance. So when her youngest daughter, Jane Morris Estrada, discovered a duplicate of one of the lost frogs while Mrs. Estrada was on her honeymoon in New Orleans, she naturally brought it home to her mother.
That began the collection that grew haphazardly until it became such an established interest that friends, family and Mrs. Morris herself began seeking unusual frog shapes and pictures to add to it.
Although Mrs. Morris has no idea how many frogs have been lost from the collection, she now estimates the survivors at around 500.
Don’t for a moment think Rosie Morris sits around all day counting her frogs. She enjoys them and enjoys receiving of locating unusual ones, but…
She is the only remaining registered nurse in private duty service at Gulfport Memorial Hospital. She returned to her nursing career 35 years ago when her youngest child was three-years-old. Her husband was in ill health and she needed more money to support her family. Her husband, John Morris, died about six years ago, she says, after being ill for many years.
She describes herself as a good mother, a good nurse and a bad housekeeper. The most interesting of these, she says, is being a mother.
Often she has been asked how she reared five children, three of whom received a college education, took care of an ill husband and paid for all of it on a nurse’s salary.
Her answer: “It just takes all kinds of nerve when you raise a bunch of children like I did.”
Nerve never has been in short supply with Mrs. Morris, anyway. Back when she was a young girl, not far out of nurses training, she decided to have her shoulder length hair cut short. “Nobody in the South had short hair then,” she says with a laugh. A friend accompanied her to a barber shop in Gulfport to get the cut. The barber, the later Mr. McCarty, greeted them with a surprised, “Could I do something for you ladies?”, Mrs. Morris recalled, adding at that time ladies did not even enter barber shops. “Yes, I want to get my hair cut,” she replied. “Why?” the barber queried her. “To tell you the truth,” the young woman answered, “When I was little my daddy took my sister to get her hair cut and I always though [sic] it looked so cute. I begged him for mine to be cut but he told me I was a grown girl and too old.” (“I was all of 12, I think, she explained during the interview Thursday morning.) The barber told Mrs. Morris (who was not yet Mrs. Morris when this occurred), “I hate to cut this pretty, curly hair.”
“Well, if you don’t someone else will,” was her final retort. He did.
Not long after her haircut the young nurse moved to Greenville, S. C. to assume a new nursing position. “Everybody thought I’d had typhoid fever,” she says. Other young nurses like her short hair-cut so well (remember, short hair was unheard of on young women at this time) that three fellow-nurses went out and got theirs cut short.
“They were fired immediately,” Mrs. Morris reflects. Adding, “About that same time 11 nurses in New Orleans were also fired for having their hair cut short – it was all over the newspapers.”
“But they couldn’t touch me because I came with my hair short. My sister had told me before my haircut that if I did it, everyone was going to think I was a freak. I told her I didn’t care if they did, I wanted short hair.”
Mrs. Morris originally is from Collins, Miss. Where she was one of 12 children. She received her nurse’s training at Charity Hospital in Jackson, Miss. Which since has been torn down. Her early career took her to positions in Laurel, Miss., Rockefeller Hospital in New York, Greenville, S. C. and the Kings Daughters Hospital in Gulfport, all before her marriage at age 29.
She says, “No matter where I went, whether up north or in the south, I found that no nurses I worked with were better trained than those who had received their training at Kings’ Daughters Hospital.
She nursed at the Kings’ Daughters Hospital in Gulfport located in what is now the Gulf Breeze Apartments on 32nd ave. However that facility was under construction when she first came to the hospital, then located in a green frame building behind where the brick structure was built. The new hospital, now the apartment building, was completed in 1922. She says, “My nephew, Easton [sic] Robertson Jr., was the first baby born in the new hospital, July 4, 1922.”
Her varied nursing experience has taught her, Mrs. Morris says, that she prefers private duty nursing to general duty because, “with private duty you have strict contact with your patients and you can do everything for them. But on general duty, a nurse has too much of too many things to do to be able to give any one patient the personal attention the patients needs.”
However, Mrs. Morris will not do home nursing. She says, “If the patient is that sick, he needs to be in the hospital.”
She has lived in her present home for approximately 40 years and notes that when she and her husband decided what they wanted to build, it took only three weeks to construct the home. “But that can’t be done anymore.”
She describes herself: “I’m very optimistic and happy, not a worrier. If I can do something about a situation, I do it; if not I let it go!”
Quiet hours of night private duty nursing have given Mrs. Morris the time to crochet almost 1,000 afghans, most all of which have been given away as gifts. Now she is teaching some of her granddaughters to crochet them. Her grandchildren total up to 14, she says.
“I once thought, after I went back to nursing, that I should work only in the daytime so I could be home with my children at night. However, I found out it was in the daytime that I needed to be home with my children when they were up and needed me. So I began working only at night.
When she resumed her nursing career 35 years ago, she says she worked 12-hour shifts for $6 a shift. When work hours were cut back to 8-hour shifts and pay to $5 for that schedule, her finances were so close to the bone that she made special arrangements to continue working 12-hour shifts in order to make the additional $1.
Yet she reared her five children and encouraged each of them in his/her own special talents. How? “With the help of the Lord—and I just kept on going,” she reflects.
“Tommye Nell (a daughter, now Mrs. David Kelly of Columbia, S. C. who won national recognition in twirling competition) won a four year scholarship to college for her twirling and John had his G. I. Bill when he went through college.
Tommye wanted to twirl when she got into high school but regulations were that she had to play an instrument in the band before she could twirl. I didn’t have the money to buy another instrument so I was going to borrow one from a neighbor who had dropped out of band. But the band director told me he already had all of that instrument he needed, that I should get Tommy a trombone. Well, I just couldn’t buy it. Then John joined the Navy and that left his trombone for Tommye. Things just worked out.
Tommye who had taught herself to twirl, was selected drum major of the band after that. She did eventually take some professional training at St. Paul, Minn. where she was named to the Five American National Twirlers.
Mrs. Morris sums up her financial problems while her children were young with, “I borrowed from every loan company in Gulfport. But I had good credit because I always paid it back.
“Now, people are asking me when I’m going to retire from nursing. My answer is ‘whdn I can’t do just to my patients.’”
She has not neared that point yet.
Here are the photos that came with the article. The copies are in very poor conditions, but, I thought I’d include them for historical reference.
Finally setting the record straight!
As I sit here in my living room composing this blog post, I can look over into my dining room to the framed copy of this newspaper article I have cherished for may years… hanging on the wall. It goes wherever my home is. When the article was published, I made sure I had a copy of my own and I had placed my copy in my scrapbook. I was the family historian even back then. That is the way my grandmother raised me. She bought the mucilage and the scrapbooks for me to keep my treasures organized. I kept favorite greeting cards, unused restaurant napkins I’d squirreled away from special meals as souvenirs (I was big on souvenirs), notes from classmates, newspaper articles I’d collected of family members and my own activities from the Daily Herald, programs, invitations, you name it. My grandmother taught me how to place photos in albums and she had me organize all her photos and scrapbooks. I don’t know where those albums and scrapbooks are now, but, I do have one of the scrapbooks she had me put together of her favorite “Maidenform Bra” advertisements from magazines. I also have scanned in my scrapbook from high school. That’s where I kept my copy of this article about my beloved Mamaw. When my kids were little, I removed my article about Mamaw, and had it framed in a pink metal frame (pink for rose). Recently, I decided I needed to get it into my blog.
I was present when my grandmother was interviewed by the newspaper reporter who wrote this story. We were gathered in my grandmother’s living room at 1711 Wisteria Street in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was 17 years old. Having grown up very close to my grandmother, whom I called “Mamaw”, so I was very familiar with her stories. I realized as the interview continued, bits and pieces of the story were not quit as I had been told by Mamaw as I grew up. It was during that interview, I became aware my grandmother’s memory was fading a bit. So, through the years some things about this article bothered me. I’m now 60 years old, but, I have this opportunity to tweak this story-add or correct what I recall from family history.
First, the article title always bothered me… “Life’s challenge and mothering is the greatest of all”. I think it should read “Life’s a challenge and mothering is the greatest of all.”
My grandmother called her afghans “Granny Squares”, not “Granny Patches”. Mamaw actually misspoke. The reporter recorded this correctly, but, I remember at the time being a little bit embarrassed that Mamaw was calling them Granny Patches. That is just not what she normally called them.
She grew up in Seminary, Covington County, Mississippi, near Collins, and she spoke frequently of her affection for Collins, a town also located in Covington County.
When Mamaw told her story about the barber shop trip, she always referred to getting her hair “bobbed”. She never said “cut”. I remember this because it was an odd term for a hair cut in the 60’s when I grew up. She was very proud of that story. So was I!
I would correct the statement, “She says, ‘No matter where I went, whether up north or in the south, I found that no nurses I worked with were better trained than those who had received their training at Kings’ Daughters Hospital.'” I know she meant to say Rockefeller Hospital instead of Kings’ Daughters Hospital. I know this because I know all these stories. They are inscribed in my heart.
My grandmother’s nephew was Gaston Robertson, Jr., not Easton Robertson, Jr.
When I was growing up, the old bathtub in her back yard was an old-fashioned “claw-foot” bathtub that was the original tub installed when her home was built. I loved that bathtub! Many, many great times were had in that tub. It was deep, and for a little girl, it was like have a swimming pool in your house. When Hurricane Camille came along, the bathroom had to be redone due to storm damage and the bathtub went out in the back yard for tadpoles we continuously stocked every spring when I was growing up… many years after Uncle Johnny started the tradition. So, she must have had a different old bathtub before we installed the new one in the yard. I was 13 years old when Hurricane Camille came along, so I definitely remember losing my favorite bathtub to a new modern bathtub I did not appreciate nearly as much as the old one.
I was one of the grandkids to learn how to crochet at her knee. Lucky me! I may not make 1,000 afghans, but, I do crochet like a fiend. In fact, as soon as I finish here, I’m off to crochet.
Everything else in this newspaper article about Mamaw is spot on. As I said… I was there and I remember every second of the interview.
I would like to personally thank Geoff Pender of the Daily Herald for this article. My mother, Jane Morris Estrada was interviewed in the piece. I learned things about the neighborhood I grew up in that I’d not been aware of and I also was reminded of the unique and very precious experiences I had as a child in this Gulfport community. Since the time this article was published, much has changed for this neighborhood and many of the fears of the neighbors have continued, even worsened. I can tell you Gulf Gardens was an American dream that bore amazing fruit. The Gulf Coast was a much better place to have had such a place called Gulf Gardens. The heartbreaking truth is that very little is left of the neighborhood I grew up. When I was born, I came home from Memorial Hospital to that home the Morrises built in 1935. That house and yard will always be my home. I had hoped to return to Gulf Gardens to finish my days there as both my grandmother and mother did. This is not to be. Cherish the old neighborhoods. Remember the folks who lived and loved there. Our spirits will never leave there. Gulf Gardens was truly “Home Sweet Home”.
We take for granted, sometimes, that which is steady and true…
— Tenderly Rose
My maternal grandfather
John Harkness Morris was born on October 8, 1901, in Biloxi, Mississippi to Edna Irene Harkness and David Edmund “D.E.” Morris. My Aunt Rosie told me, and my mother confirmed it, their father weighed 14 pounds at birth. All his life he was called “Big John” for obvious reasons referring to his stature and presence.
The Morris family lived in Biloxi, Gulfport and Moss Point, Mississippi according to various newspaper clippings I’ve collected.
The U.S. Census for the year of 1910 shows Big John living with his parents Edna and D.E. in Beat 4, Gulfport, Mississippi. Hard to read the handwriting for the street they lived on.
I was told by my mother Big John attended Central High School in Gulfport which was just around the corner from his home. Later the school became Central Elementary School which I attended first through third grade back in the 1960’s. That was a source of pride for me to know that. The building was demolished for a courthouse later on, sad to say.
In 1920, the census finds Big John at the age of 18, living with his parents and sisters, Irene and Martha, and his brother, Edward, on what might appear to be 24th Street in Gulfport. Handwriting is hard to read for the address. No occupation listed, but, I note his father was working at the foundry at this time.
He married Rosa Ann Elizabeth “Rosie” Smith about 1923, in Kiln, Mississippi. They had six children in 10 years.
Hon. John “Johnny” Smith Morris 1925–1991
Mary Elizabeth “L’il Sissy” Morris 1927–1929
Tommye LaNelle Morris 1928–
David Harkness Morris 1930–1975
Rosie Ann Morris 1931–
Janie Lucille Morris 1935–2013
The 1930 census shows John Harkness Morris lived in Gulfport, Mississippi. The census lists John H Morris 28, Rose Ann Morris 34, John S. Morris 4, Tommie Linelle (wrong spelling) Morris 1 yr 11 mos, Bamma Smith – 626 Camp Ave., John’s job is listed as Automobile Salesman. Bama Smith was my grandmother’s sister.
In 1934, Big John’s father, D.E. Morris, was living with John and Rosie when he passed away at the age of 68. The obit for D.E. states he died in New Orleans, but, close family members recall John and Rosie were caring for D.E. at the time of his death. My aunt referred to D.E. as Grandpa Ed.
Gulfport City Directory for 1936 shows address for Big John’s business under “John H (Rosa) – “Morris-Webb Mtr Co 815 43rd Ave – Plymouth & DeSoto autos and International Trucks.” Lists Morris, John H.’s home as 815 43rd Ave.
John and Rosie Morris built a home at 1711 Wisteria Street in the new Gulf Gardens Subdivision back in 1935. They raised their children there and the dwelling provided a home to 4 generations of the family before the last Morris left just a couple of years back.
In 1939, a Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris Motor Company (John H. Morris) 1812 25th Ave.” Another listing for that year states, “John H (Rosa S)-Morris Motor Co. 1711 Wisteria”
When my mother, Janie, was a baby, a 1940 census shows John H, Rosie A., John Smith, Tommye L., Rosie Ann, David H. and Janie L residing on Wisteria Street, Beat 2, in Gulfport, Mississippi. I learned that at the age of 14, my Uncle Johnny sold the Daily Herald newspaper as shown on this census. My grandmother, Rosie’s occupation was listed as nurse, R.N. “special duty” and Big John’s occupation was listed as “operator” (owner) auto sales company.
A 1947 Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris, John H (Rosa) 1711 Wisteria St.”
In 1949, a Gulfport City Directory lists “Morris, John H (Rosie) & John Jr. 1711 Wisteria St. It lists “John H.” as “retired.” Big John was 48 years old at the time this directory was published.
In 1953, a Gulfport City Directory entry lists “John H (Rosie S-nurse), Janie L.-Student, David H-USA military, and John S.
I only have one picture of my grandfather. It is a photo I took of a photograph my mother showed me once when I was visiting Hungry Hill in the 90’s and my mother was the sole occupant of the house. She told me this was my grandfather’s baby picture. She said it was taken in Biloxi. She did not elaborate on it at all. It was rare that my mother spoke to me about Big John, so, I consider myself very fortunate to have this to share. It is not a very good reproduction, but, it is special to me.
When I think about it, I find it strange there are no photographs I’m aware of that were taken of me and him. There are so many photographs taken of me and my grandmother, my mother, other relatives, but, not one of me and my grandfather. I helped my grandmother put together her photo albums, it was my job to help her and we loved working on this project together. She’d tell me what to write on the backs of the photos, or in the albums. I don’t recall any candid photos shots of Big John. Were they just not taken, or kept somewhere else?
Honoring my Uncle Johnny – The Honorable John Smith “Johnny” Morris 1925-1991, Gulfport, Harrison, Mississippi. Father’s Day has come and gone, but, I always remember all the cards and presents I made for him when I was growing up. When I was a little girl, he was there for me as a father figure even though he never had any children born to him. He was married to Roma June Gentry, my dear Aunt June.
As kids we always had to shout, “Here comes the judge, here comes the judge, court be quiet ’cause here comes the judge” whenever he came to visit… we’d all laugh!
When Hon. John “Johnny” Smith Morris was born on October 11, 1925, in Gulfport, Mississippi, his father, John, was 24 and his mother, Rosa, was 29. He married Roma June Gentry on December 1, 1953, in his hometown. He died on November 4, 1991, in Gulfport, Mississippi, at the age of 66, and was buried in Biloxi, Mississippi at the Veteran’s Cemetery.
father of Hon. John “Johnny” Smith Morris
daughter of John Harkness MORRIS
the daughter of Janie Lucille MORRIS
Hon. John “Johnny” Smith Morris served in the military about 1943, when he was 18 years old. US Navy Enlistment-Uncle Johnny lied about his age to enlist early. He lost a leg soon afterward during a conflict overseas somewhere. I really don’t know much at this point about his military career, although, I do plan to research more as time permits. I was told by my grandmother Uncle Johnny lost his leg before he was of age to enlist, but, had joined without his parent’s permission and she didn’t know about it until it was too late.
Uncle Johnny proudly attended Mississippi State University and remained a dedicated football fan for “Ole Miss” all his life. He loved watching football games at home in Bayou View, just off Pass Road.
I remember Uncle Johnny wanting to learn to play electric guitar. He had one he stored at his home. He gave me his book about how to play the ukulele, which he had apparently learned to play in the military. I still have the book.
Uncle Johnny graduated with a B.S. Finance/School of Business and Finance at Ole Miss. In 1962, he returned to Ole Miss to complete a masters degree in law.
He offered to send me to the Ringling School of Art in Florida because he recognized my talent and passion for art. I did not take him up on the offer. I wish I had. Both Uncle Johnny and Aunt June bought clothes and shoes for me when I needed them in junior high and high school, even college. They were supportive of me and I spent much time with them. I helped Uncle Johnny on the campaign trail handing out his cards and information, talking to voters and attending rallies with him.