Remembering Gil Morrisby Joe Ward
We’re going to miss Gil Morris. Talk about one of a kind. All you had to do was hear that laugh or spend some time over one of his chicken-scratched Tour de Gil invitations to be persuaded of that. I think the deal was that he never grew up – and I mean that in the positive sense of the expression. He spent his childhood on Edgehill Road, near the old mansion called Lauderdale, and he ranged widely, first on foot and then by bike. He told me once that he was hacking his way through honeysuckle in the park one day and, way back in the brush, he came on the Daniel Boone statue, like some Mayan relic. It had been erected off the road down the hill from Hogan’s Fountain, and then forgotten for years. Later it was moved down to Eastern Parkway where people would see it.
His most famous – to us – trip by bike was in 1940 when he rode his new two-speed Paramount past Howard “Pop” Jefferis’s bike shop. Jefferis, who’d been in the bike business since the bike heyday of the 1890s called out, “Hey, kid! You want a job?” It turned out he did, and the job suited him so well that it took his death 66 years later to get him out of the building.
He explored the world then, on long trips to Europe and Asia, but he was still a kid at heart. One of his favorite stories – perhaps the favorite – was about sledding in the heavy snow of that winter of 1977-78. He’d go out at night with his sled and mix with the teenagers, in his heavy coat and stocking cap. One night he was taking a breather with another sledder at the top of a hill, and the other sledder asked, “What school do you go to?”
Gil savored it for a minute. Then he said, “Well, my grandson goes to Fern Creek.” He said it caused the kid to look at him a little more closely.
The thing was, he never lost his sense of exhilaration from getting on his bike and flying without wings. For years, he rode the Tour de Gil Route every morning before he went to work. I think his life would have lasted a lot longer if he hadn’t been so severely beaten by that robber ten or so years ago. Other people wouldn’t have lasted through the robbery itself.
When you really saw the kid in Gil was when he was selling a bike to one. He could communicate with kids in a way you couldn’t hear. I watched him one day with a boy who clearly had dreamed through all aspects of owning a bike long before he’d managed to get his mother to the store. He had his eye on one, but there was a problem. No kickstand. He mentioned it to Gil, and Gil said it could be fixed. “Will it go like this?” the boy asked, and he stood by the bike, hands on the bar grips, and moved his right leg back to push the imaginary kickstand into stowed position.
“Just like that,” Gil said. And he went to the counter and rang up the sale.
At the close of day, Gil used to go through the shop and turn the front wheels of all the bicycles in the same direction. In the morning, Ted told me once, they’d be every which way. Who moved them? “Nobody knows,” Ted said. Now, I think, if they should be discovered all in one direction in the morning, we’d know who did that.
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web posted: 3 January 2007
last updated: 5 January 2007