David Jefferson Morris Jr.
Jeff passed away in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, after a two-year struggle with cancer, during which he still managed to have some marvelous times!
Jeff was born Aug. 16, 1943 to David J. Morris Sr. and Norah Juanita Sentell Morris in Brooklyn, New York, where the family was temporarily located during World War II. Jeff’s family settled in David Sr.'s hometown of Brownwood, Texas, after the war. Jeff was later joined by brother Daniel and sister Annette, and all recounted sweet memories of life on the edge of town in 1940s/1950s rural Texas — using the empty countryside as a far-ranging backyard, helping their dad with a garden and a woodworking shop, and knowing all the neighbors and their pets.
Jeff especially adored his grandmother, Norah Jewell Hewett Sentell of Snyder, whom Jeff nicknamed "SuperGranny" when she walked out her front door to greet us once in a red dress she'd made with a big white, lacy S embroidered on the front (and she learned to love the nickname). She had the most loving influence on Jeff of anyone in his childhood, forming an especially deep bond with her first grandchild and instilling in him an early indelible feminism.
Jeff and siblings lost their dad when Jeff was 15; their mother, Nita, taught history at Brownwood High School to provide for the family. Jeff graduated with honors from Brownwood High in 1961, where he was a drummer in jazz band and in The Flattops jazz combo. He attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins and got his degree in wildlife management, intermittently spending time as a surveyor in California, where he discovered a love for geology as he worked in and near the mountains, the redwoods, and the Pacific Ocean.
He met and married Rosemary Russell of Austin, Texas, in the mid-1960s, and served two years in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, on the destroyer USS Wilson. After his service, Jeff and Rosemary explored living in California, but settled again in Texas. Jeff worked for Texas Parks & Wildlife Department as a fisheries research biologist in Del Rio, San Angelo, and Mountain Home. They had two daughters, Marian and Michelle, of whom Jeff was immensely proud. During this time he also learned to fly small private planes and earned his license (still tucked into his wallet when he passed, even though he had stopped flying long before).
TPWD took Jeff to all parts of Texas and other states, to rivers, creeks, and lakes...all passions of his he passed on to his daughters. One trip took him north of Yellowstone just when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980; he caught a last plane out before the ash cloud shut down flights out of Montana, bringing us all little bottles of ash as keepsakes.
Jeff did eventually become disillusioned with both TPWD and his marriage, and upon divorcing himself from both, transformed his life. Settling in Austin in 1981, Jeff turned to writing and editing, including joining the newly minted Austin Writers’ League, now known as the Writers’ League of Texas. Jeff edited the League’s newsletter for much of the 1980s. He was an accomplished wordsmith his entire life, and for a time wrote a column called "Barefaced Lies" for the Austin American-Statesman and for small newspapers across Texas.
A layoff from technical writing for UT-Austin catalyzed Jeff’s starting his own business, becoming a respected ghostwriter, book editor, and desktop publisher, and building a clientele via word of mouth over two decades.
Jeff was a talented draftsman and sketch artist, with a passion for classic cars. He loved road trips, solar eclipses (especially 1991 in Mexico and 2017 in Missouri), hot springs, cold rivers, west Texas, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevadas, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the entire dramatic wilderness of the Western USA. He had a talent for ferreting out the best Thai food in any area, like a trained truffle pig (and he would both critically note and also enjoy being compared to both a ferret and a pig in one sentence!).
He loved Paris and Cuba, and the grace, intelligence, and playfulness of cats. He was a champion pétanque player and enjoyed bocce games with neighborhood friends (and even had a bocce court named after him). He was passionate about his politics, too (including voting for Shirley Chisholm’s bloodless revolution in 1972). He was an avid reader and a fan of classical, jazz, and folk music (again, passed on to his daughters).
It's been said that the improvisation of jazz takes listeners to places they've not been before. Jeff's wicked, silly sense of humor was like jazz in that way, too. You never knew what he would say next in a conversation that would take you into tears of laughter, like going down a rabbit hole of hilarity and insight. One memorable dinner conversation began with discussing market instability and the influence of random specific events, then climate change chain reactions, to never really knowing the effects of your actions, to how atoms collide in nuclear chain reactions, finally ending with quoting SNL’s Father Guido Sarducci “not knowing who’s a-coming and who’s a-going.”
Jeff was a treasure trove of wisdom and wit, and his family and friends will miss that in our lives — our card games and dinners, hikes up Enchanted Rock, river adventures near Ingram and along Barton Creek, camping trips, and grilled ribeye steaks with morel sauce. Jeff lived simply externally, but extravagantly internally in his adventures, experiences, and intellect — and he was good at including others in the fun.
Jeff is survived by his daughters, Marian Morris of Austin and Michelle Morris Debien of Atlanta, Georgia, along with his son-in-law, David Debien, granddaughter Pallas Debien, and step-grandson Ariel Debien; brother Daniel Franklin Morris of Austin; and sister Annette Morris of Thorndale, Texas. Jeff was beloved by many cousins, particularly Helen Sentell Czajkowski and Nick and Colleen Holland of Santa Cruz, California; Tom and Beverly Rasor of Dallas and their daughters, Amy Rasor of Phoenix, Arizona, and Lindsay Rasor of Dallas; Linda Rasor Cain of Merritt Island, Florida; many Morris cousins across Texas, including Marilyn, Diana, and Christine Morris, and Sandra Morris Elliott; and many fond friends.
Jeff was a scientist, atheist, pragmatist, and humanist; for those reasons, along with coronavirus and hot weather, there will be no religious or funeral services. Friends and loved ones will be invited this fall to gather outdoors to reminisce, tell stories, and laugh as if he were still with us. He was appreciative of all the long years he got to live, so even though we will miss him terribly, we want to celebrate that we had him in our lives. Please send no flowers, but do make donations to Hospice Austin, the Nature Conservancy, or the Central Texas Food Bank in his memory.
In one of Jeff's last conversations, he said, "You know why our family has so much silly fun? It's because we're all still children in grown-up bodies. Thank goodness!" Then he tenderly said, "I love you. Boogedy-boogedy!"