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Celebrating the life of educational icon Owen Howard Morrison – Eulogy

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Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2022. 10:49 am CST.

By Hector Lopez: We are gathered this afternoon in the presence of Owen Howard Morrison’s family, friends, and our Almighty God to say that here was a life that demands notice…a life that exemplified giving, caring and kindness.

Owen Morrison was a man of great stature, extraordinary brilliance, duty, and compassion. He symbolized a spirit of collegiality. He was a trailblazer in his era, displaying grit, perseverance, and a vision that enabled him to transcend and lead with exemplary innovation. A true champion educator, he represented thousands of students making scholastic achievement and opportunities a reality and navigating hurdles through advocacy in creating reform for students of minority.

A true patriot, Owen’s vision was to propagate a citizenry that would be efficient in terms of productivity and engineering. His students were top priority as he aimed to foster a love for his country as well as contributing significantly to the economic development of his native land. A proponent of education, Owen believed that education is action and that students must acquire the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to impact change through clinical practice, and contextual understanding.

Early Life

Owen Howard Morrison was born in Dangriga in 1936 to parents Reginald Howard Morrison and Rosamond Morrison (nee Smith). Owen was the 2nd child to Reginald and Rosamond Morrison, and their only son. He had one older sister, Ena and one younger sister, Olga. Regrettably, a few years later, Rosamond and Reginald divorced, and Rosamond took her three children to Belize City where she met and married Mr. Egbert Thurton. They went on to have 3 children of their own, Gilbert, Martha and Yvette. His youngest sister, Yvette, recalls that her brother always had a passion for education. One of the more admirable things she recalls about her big brother Owen, was that even in their childhood, his passion showed through and through. As hard times struck their family, Owen was forced to drop out of school. This, however, did not deter Owen from learning, as he would make his way to the school’s fence with his pencil and paper to ask his classmates about what they did and learned in school that day. By the intervention of Mr. Denzel Jenkins, who was a member of St. Michaels school board, Owen was able to acquire a scholarship to complete his final year of school, and although he had missed an entire term, he was still able to complete his exams and pass 2nd overall. At the age of 14 he attended St. Michael’s College SMC, the former Anglican High School for boys. After he graduated, he worked at Cable and Wireless for a short period before venturing into teaching. He taught Math and Human Biology at his ‘alma mater’, St. Michael’s College, for a time before transferring over to BTC where he continued teaching his passion- Biology and Math.

In the early 1950’s Owen and the beautiful Elva McAllister met while they were teenagers and they got married on April 30th, 1960. From their union they had 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. The children are: Karen, Dylana, Ian and Lyn and all are quite successful. They also share 8 beautiful grandchildren: Amir, Diana Paola, Gillian, Ricesell, Bryce, Ahkeil(Akeel), Chloe and Ansen and were graciously blessed with 5 great-grandchildren: Isabella, Jaia (Jaya), Aubree, Enzo and Brielle.

A pioneer in his field, he was among the first to pass Advanced Level Biology in 1960. In 1962, he won a Canadian Fellowship scholarship and went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. At this point, he took his family and temporarily migrated to Canada and completed a 4-year program in just 3 years where he graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree. Owen invested in himself as he recognized education was the gateway for accelerating advancement in a colonial society. He didn’t rely on a society that buffered the affluent and neglected the poor. Upon returning to Belize, he continued at BTC and rose through the ranks to become the Vice Principal under Mr. Clive Gillett.

With of a spirit of determination to excel in higher education he then pursued further studies. This dream materialized in 1976 when he went to Bolton College in England and obtained a Certificate in Technical Education. Shortly thereafter, he obtained his Masters in Higher Education at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Owen’s journey as an educator was profound as his background became the cornerstone for his tenure as an instructional leader, mentor, and educator. Owen believed in servant leadership and even though he was at the helm of one of Belize’s leading tertiary institutions known as the Belize Technical College, he remained steadfast in his faith, vision, leadership principles and supported his constituencies to achieve goals beyond their imagination. Owen’s conviction was that his students can excel irrespective of their socio-economic status and hence, he found a myriad of opportunities to support them in their endeavours. Mr. Morrison as he was affectionately called ascended into principalship of The Belize Technical College in 1980 when Mr. Clive Gillett retired. According to Mr. Card, a faithful faculty member that served under the auspicious leadership of Mr. Morrison, “He was a principal who did not let the rigors of administration prevent him from the classroom, so he continued to teach while being the principal”. This was seen as an admirable trait as school dynamics were changing and Mr. Morrison believed wholeheartedly that he must have a visible presence, foster active engagement and involve himself in the day-to-day operations of the school.

Known to be revolutionary in thinking, in the late 80’s he negotiated scholarships through Dr. Betty Flinchum, the Dean of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida to obtain scholarships for aspiring Belizean teachers. To date this is still in place and is called the teachers scholarship programme. Belize is proud to have hundreds of alumni from the University of North Florda, Jacksonville. Another major accomplishment was when he became a part of a team of four members in 1985 to go to Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. This gave rise to the University College of Belize which eventually evolved into the present University of Belize. A BEACON that emulated lifelong learning as a means of social mobility, he was instrumental with the marking of papers for CXC exams in Barbados in the 70’s and 80’s. During his tenure, Mr. Morrison served on the Education Council where he drafted policies in collaboration with educators such as Mrs. Beatrice Kingston Smith and others. These opportunities opened doors for him to travel and represent Belize at the Caribbean educational headquarters on CXC affairs as CXC was being developed from the old GCE system. These were indeed momentous occasions in his life. These opportunities shaped and reformed his thinking on the canons of education and he was a man that spoke from insights, experience, and application.

Mr. Morrison retired from The Belize Technical College in 1991. On retirement he did a stint in Politics when he ran for area representative in the Freetown Division in 1993. He was not successful, but his party, the UDP, won the elections, and he was appointed Executive Officer in the Ministry of Education where he advised the then minister of education on educational polices until 1998. Geban (2022) postulates that success of a man is not determined by the credentials he holds but rather through the mastery and application of skills. Mr. Morrison was indeed a successful scholar who contributed significantly to the development of education in Belize as he was able to apply knowledge learned in one area into various fields.

His teaching career simultaneously took on a new trajectory. During this time Mr. Morrison continued his teaching with stints at the University of Belize (UB), Pallotti High School, Anglican Cathedral College (ACC), Ladyville Technical High School, St. Michael’s College and Frank A. Lizama Training and Skills Center. Throughout his life he always had time to tutor students.

His vision was to witness a new Belize whereby students from the lowest social stratum of society would achieve quality education and self-actualization. A stellar principal with ideologies unmatched, Morrison demonstrated a fearless spirit of competition which permeated into his students and all intramural and extramural curricular activities.

Besides a commitment for robust learning, he was known as an avid sport enthusiast and the biggest supporter for his school. Villanueva describes him as a cheerleader of all school initiatives. He was an avid soccer player and conversely, putting his personal stamp and touch of finesse on every school championship his school won. Morrison was a reckoning force that personally imbued a competitive spirit and energy that embraced team culture.

He instilled school pride and an ethos of excellence. Loved by all his students, he displayed authenticity, charisma, transparency and used a transformative approach to leadership. A humble man with a giant heart making a compelling difference in Belize when the metamorphosis was most needed.

In the academics, especially in the sciences which was his academic forte, BTC excelled. According to Mr. Karl E. Villanueva, a former student of Mr. Morrison, they competed against other schools with an intentional force to change the social construct of classism. According to Mr. Card, at BTC he was actively involved in the fields of football, softball, basketball, volleyball, track and field for both boys and girls. He always took part in the teachers race, the competition between teachers and students in football, softball, and tug of war. He also competed in Table Tennis. In all these sporting events, he was willing to challenge anyone, he was known to be formidable. Villanueva describes Mr. Morrison as an exemplary patriarch, a leader who was willing to listen, share common goals, invest time, energy, and resources and most importantly, believe in his team. Like many others, Owen challenged his children to be scholars.

A Second Chance at Love

Mr. Morrison was a serious man in terms of school governance. He was charismatic in nature, humorous, and agile. One key hallmark of his life was that he too believed in love. Love for family, brotherhood, and community. A philosopher by nature and a person that studied scientific inquiry such as works of Carl Jung, he believed that “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

One of Owen’s great love story began later on in his life, when he met the young, lovely and outstandingly beautiful Laurel Grant. She was 18 years old, and Owen was 35, a disproportionate match but nonetheless, very much a love match. Owen and Laurel courted for 4 years before finally settling down to start a family. From their love, they bore a bouncing baby boy, whom Owen insisted on naming Colin Howard Morrison after a dear friend he met in England and his own father. Their common-law union continued to be blessed with male children, the second by the name of Lyndon Owen Morrison (deceased) and Klayton Adrian Morrison, both of which he rightfully named after great people from his past.

Owen and Laurel went on to build a home for their new family, believing that their family was now complete. To their delight, they were blessed one last time with a baby girl who truly completed the union of Owen and Laurel. This little princess, as he called her, he chose to name Vanessa Vivian Morrison, which he was inspired to do as a result of the encounter he had with one of the first Black Cross nurses to visit Belize.

Over the years, Owen and Laurel, along with their four children shared many wonderful memories. His eldest son with Laurel, Colin, can recall that his father, although a disciplinarian, was a loving, supportive, and caring father. He created a climate of healthy rivalry as he taught Colin many sports and how to be “the man of the house.” Colin later repaid his father by showering him with delicious home-cooked meals which he prepared himself for his own family. Colin also recalls how lovingly his dad treated his only son, CeJay Morrison. He was a proud grandfather.

One of the more devastating incidents to occur in Owen’s life, was the loss of his second eldest son with Laurel, Lyndon. This shook him to his core. However, he devotedly took on the role as foster father to Lyndon’s only child that he left behind, Tristan Morrison, whom he cared for and loved unconditionally. All throughout Owen’s later years, he found himself still reminiscing fondly of the memories he shared with Lyndon. May they reunite once more as loving father and son in heaven.

His last son with Laurel, Klayton, is a special-needs person, whom he cherished and worked closely with to give him as normal a life as possible. Until his death, Owen was an integral part of the life of Klayton. He was proud of his son. Owen was noble and his actions were a true testimony of being a real father. Fatherhood, was more than a biological role. It signified a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.

His last little girl, Vanessa, was one of the most cared for, loved and spoiled child he ever had. He would traipse her up and down the halls of Technical introducing her to all the teachers. Their relationship and bond never wavered over the years. And in his final years, Vanessa was the one to repay her father for all he had done and meant to her. Determined to ensure that her father was safe and comfortable in his final years on Earth, she selflessly took on the responsibility of caring for Owen. Along with the tremendous help of Laurel and Dawn Gentle, they ensured that Owen was living comfortably and dignified. Until his last breath, Vanessa stood by her father’s side in the hospital, and even though it broke her heart into a million pieces to witness the death of her father, there was no one more fitting to be by his side in his last moments than his little princess.

Latter Life

In his later years, he became aware of his fallibility and was often quoting from the Irish poet, William Yeats: “an aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick” …, whenever he was unable to do the things he used to do and he turned these shortcomings into amusing anecdotes.

As Owen progressed into seniority, he resorted to private family life. He spent many days quietly at home and on occasions would reminisce with fellow colleagues in his immediate neighborhood. He was able to mobilize himself for many years up to the age of 82. Those in the community were fond of him as he remained jovial and quite alert of current issues affecting the people of Belize and was able to participate in intellectual discourse never losing sight of what was priority.

Owen had many ups and even a few downs along life’s way and faced many challenges which later on was known to his family and friends to be as a result of an undiagnosed illness and so, he was forced to accept his debilitating condition.

However, he would always follow a familiar philosophy which is captured in the chorus of a Frank Sinatra song, “That’s life.”

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out, and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

That’s life

He was fond of ALL his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren who brought unconditional love to him. A man like him comes around only once in a lifetime. He was truly a loving and gracious father, grandfather, brother, uncle, friend, teacher, leader and an all-around great person. The quality of a father can be seen in the goals, dreams and aspirations he sets not only for himself, but for his family (Markham, n.d.)). The love and beautiful memories shared with Owen can never be erased.

Adlai Stevenson once commented about a man and his contribution and said, “It is not the years in a life that counts; it’s the life in the years”. Owen Howard Morrison lived. We will miss him.

We ask God’s blessing and comfort on his family in their time of pain and sorrow.

 

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