The following is a speech given at a memorial service for Ron Morris, longtime West Village resident:
One of the things my dad valued most in this life was friendship, and I know he’d be delighted that such a wonderful community of friends convened here tonight to honor and remember him. He was a great friend to many, a fact that became all too evident after his passing when my mom and I had to make all those very tough phone calls to a seemingly endless rolodex of circus friends, carnival friends, printing business friends, English friends, Canadian friends, San Francisco friends, friends from his commune days in Libre, Colorado, his New Orleans friends, his New York friends, Parisian friends, friends from Thailand to Israel and everywhere in between. He knew so many colorful characters and was certainly one in his own right. “One of a kind,” as many people have noted these past few weeks. I’d like to think that he’s listening in on us here tonight, so just in case he is, please speak loudly when you’re regaling each other with your memories and stories, as we all know his hearing was pretty shitty.
Like all of you, I have my own stories to tell about my Dad, as we shared many amazing journeys together throughout the years. We slept on ryokan mats in Japan, drove the Golden Ring of Iceland, and were once waylaid in Darjeeling, India after a local peasant boy made good and won Indian Idol and the whole town shut down for days in raucous jubilation. Those are but a few memories of millions made, and have inspired me to take on new adventures with my own children if I may be so blessed.
In business, my dad wore many hats throughout the years. Coming from humble beginnings in East London, his first job was as a “stickman” selling toys on Petticoat Lane. He’d later try his hand as an adman in Osaka, Japan, a window washer in Paris, a dishwasher in Amsterdam, a jazz club owner in Toronto, a bartender and cab driver in New York, an extra in an Elia Kazan movie filmed in Greece, a published biographer of Karl Wallenda, a life insurance salesman in San Francisco, a door-to-door water softener salesman in Sarasota, a circus producer, a printing business owner, and about a hundred other odd jobs in between. He was a hustler and a haggler, a hard-scrabble survivor, a risk taker, a road warrior. He was still working right until his last day, and loving every minute of it. As many of you could attest to, he was highly intuitive, a shrewd negotiator, a savvy salesman, a fair and generous boss, a mentor to many, and someone who was just as comfortable wearing a concession apron as a nice suit and tie. My sister Ceres and I never let him forget all the near-mortal flesh wounds we sustained sticking candy apples as his thriftily paid child labor, and probably never let him know enough how thankful we were for the work ethic he and our mom instilled in us.
In life, my Dad was endlessly curious. He was a voracious consumer of books, of news, of ideas. He was someone who took time to read the fine print, who liked to get down to the meat of the matter—cutting through the BS, seeing the big picture, and always trying to understand the inner workings of things. He loved a good hot dog, listening to the blues or Brazilian samba, a night at the movies with Mom, an Edward Hopper painting, and belly laughing at a good joke. He was smitten with his grandkids, and like them, he was a great master of the afternoon nap.
He had a deep dislike for sad movies, rip-offs, or anything “fancy schmancy,” as he would say. He hated phony people, cilantro, and above all, turnips—an after-effect of his childhood days in war-torn England, when he was sent to live on a turnip farm in the English countryside.
He could also be an amusingly paradoxical person, a duality, yet perfectly at ease with his own dichotomy: he was complex yet simple, open yet private, adventurous yet had a visceral disdain for exotic cuisines, nostalgic yet forward thinking, American yet English, industrious yet lazy, serious yet hilarious, and loved boat trips but couldn’t swim. He was always going yet knew how to take it easy. He was an elder statesman and a big baby, a cunning strategist and a lucky bastard, and a man of few words who could also charm the hairnet off a Publix check-out lady with his witty banter.
But I think he’ll be remembered most for his endlessly restless sense of adventure, which took him to far off places like the North Pole, North Korea, Siberia, Mongolia, Africa, Tierra del Fuego, and endless elsewheres. I’d run out of pushpins if I tried to plot them all on a map. He loved being on the road, and I can only imagine what adventure his soul is on now, no doubt stopping for a spot of tea and a nice nap along the way.
He was a Gypsy, a Jew, a realist, a romantic, a mensch, a Buddha, an everyman, a boss, a Dad, a doting grandfather, a husband, and a friend. I will deeply miss his worldly wisdom, his jolly laughter, his sagacious winking glances, and his hilarious complaints. I’ll likely never be able to fill his well-worn shoes, but I’m so glad I got to walk alongside them for the time I did. I wouldn’t be who I am, have what I have, or know what I know without him.
He lived a maximum life, right up to the very end, and we are all the better for knowing him, and even more so for loving him.