George Earl Morris Jr. passed away peacefully on the morning of December 31, 2022. He was 85 years old. Through the end of his eventful life, Earl kept an anonymous quote near by. It read, “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely and pretty in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
Earl’s was indeed quite a ride. Born the first son of George Earl Morris Sr. and Sarah Irene Morris (nee Harding) on January 11, 1937 in Pennsauken, New Jersey he was joined in 1938 by a younger brother David Walter (1938-2020). In high school, Earl served as a volunteer with the ambulance squad and became the youngest Red Cross Certified Lifeguarding Instructor in the state. He excelled in many facets of school life, but especially in the visual arts. Earl graduated from Merchantville High School with the class of 1954. After high school Earl enlisted in the United States Navy on July 30, 1954, joining the dental corps as a dental technician. During his training, an instructor noted his talent as he carved a flawless model tooth from chalk, unblemished and perfectly scaled, Earl’s artistic side continued to rear its head. After completing his training in 1958, Earl served on the USS Tarawa, as a part of the Atlantic Fleet.
After completing his time as a dental corpsman, Earl took art classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art School using his GI Bill. Unsure of his direction, he met a recruiter from IBM and was hired as a commercial illustrator. He eventually moved away from the creative side of the company and became the coordinator for the manned flight awareness program working through IBM with the NASA program. He would retire from IBM after almost 30 years working with the space program, from the later Gemini missions, through the Apollo program, and into the Space Shuttle era. He met (and often drank with) astronauts and other figures of the space race.
Upon his retirement from IBM and after moving to Roanoke, VA, Earl finally put his full effort into artistic growth and became an accomplished wood carver, completing intricate and lifelike roses, birds and other animals. He also began a connection with the Virginia Bluebird Society, where he would be named “Bluebirder of the Year” in 2006.
Earl traveled widely in his life, from Hawaii and Tokyo to Huntsville and Houston. He was never happier than when he was pulling a practical joke on friends or family. Whether scaring nephews while he was dressed as Frankenstein or dressing up as a bunny to surprise friends, Earl loved to make people laugh, especially when it required intricate planning, precision timing and a costume. He was recognized in 1993 with “Earl Morris Day” in Westchester County, New York, in honor of his work to support the homeless population in the county. He loved cowboy boots, Willie Nelson and he was an impressively adventurous gourmand. Earl was one of a kind, a truly unique man. When those closest to him reflect, there is one common conclusion drawn, “Wow, what a ride.” He is survived by his six loving nieces and nephews Jon, Andy, Dan, Kate, Jenny and Patrick.
Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Roanoke, is assisting the family. To send online condolences please visit tharpfuneralhome.com.