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Gene O. Morris: A man of passion, enthusiasm, family
Gene O. Morris was a man of passion. He embraced everything that he did with zeal. When he believed in an idea, his enthusiasm was contagious; and sometimes even irrepressible.
His first passion, of course, was his family. He disclosed on several occasions how fortunate he was to have found Barbara to share his life with, and how grateful he was that she “put up with” him for so many years. She was truly a partner to him, supporting his dreams and guiding him throughout his life. He wrote in October 2018, “my ramblings don’t do much damage because my wife of 37 years, Barbara Jean Morris, is a princess who has learned to let my constant outpouring of words flow freely down the drain.”
He was so proud of his two daughters, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as Barbara’s children and grandchildren. His eyes would sparkle when he spoke about their accomplishments, no matter how great or small.
But his passion extended beyond his family. He was a gifted writer. The words came easy to him and he was enthusiastic about sharing his talent to touch the lives of those around him. It didn’t matter if the story he was working on was a simple business update or an in-depth feature story. When he had an assignment, he pursued his sources with a commitment and dedication that few could match.
He had a way of writing that reflected his good-ole-boy Missouri background. He used simple words, often limited and packed with humor, but full of meaning that revealed his zest for life, his modest gratitude for the opportunities he had been given, and his optimism for the future.
Another passion for Gene was the newspaper industry in general. He started his career in 1961 as a city beat and sports reporter for the McCook Gazette. He later became the managing editor of the Winfield, Kansas Daily Courier. Gene and Barbara purchased the Benkelman Post and News-Chronicle in 1981, which they operated until 1990. That was when Gene became the publisher of the McCook Gazette; a position he held until 2007. After his retirement from the Gazette, Gene continued to work part-time for the newspaper in both the editorial and the advertising departments.
Upon receiving the Master Editor-Publisher Award from Nebraska Press Association in 2014, Morris said, “In my opinion, community newspaper work is the most noble of crafts. Think about what we do as newspaper people. We have the responsibility and the privilege of uplifting our communities by gathering information, providing entertainment and offering inspiration to those we serve. At our best, we are difference-makers, and it is a thrill to behold what we can, and have accomplished.”
Gene also had a passion for McCook and all of Southwest Nebraska, a place he referred to as the “Golden Plains”. He wrote three books about the history of McCook, and he was given the honor of serving on various community boards throughout his career, including McCook Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee, Marketing Hometown America facilitator, Fox Theatre, Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival, McCook Economic Development Corporation, and the George Norris Foundation.
His service to those organizations gave him a unique insight into what made McCook tick and allowed him to cover the community as an insider with a strong devotion and commitment.
Throughout his career, Gene was given many honors, including the Francis L. Partsch Award for Editorial Leadership in 2003, induction into the Nebraska Journalism Hall of Fame in 2009, the Master Editor-Publisher Award in 2014, and the Leadership Nebraska Award in 2017. Those honors inspired Gene, and he wanted his staff and co-workers to experience the same joy and gratification that he did throughout his career.
He was a mentor to many at the Gazette and throughout the community. He had an uncanny ability to offer words of encouragement at just the right moment in time. He was quick to praise, humble in offering constructive advice, and when he thought you were wrong, he didn’t hesitate to debate an issue with robust intensity.
During the past few months, Gene has had various health issues that has kept him from being in the Gazette office. We have all noticed a significant decrease in the decibel level around the office. While his passing Sunday morning will be grieved by many, we celebrate in the fact that Gene truly touched our lives. And we know that he lived his life with a true passion that left him with no regrets. Rest in peace, Gene.