Leo Morris: Rest in Peace

July 7, 2023

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review these last six years, died yesterday the owner of a distinguished 50-year career in journalism, most of it with the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. His honors included the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer and being named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee.

There was talk of giving him a Sagamore but the talk came back that he might refuse it. He was cantankerous that way, knowing too well the character of some who had won it.

Surprisingly for an introverted writer with a down-home look, Leo was regularly asked to be a television guest and had developed an admirable speaking style thanks to the Toastmasters (an editor forced him to join as a condition of employment). He was said to be a good dancer.

He leaves a huge hole in what he termed his “so-called” profession. It can be said that Morris was the last real journalist left in Indiana. He grew up in newsrooms where facts were hung on a frame of “who, what, when, where, why and how” and left there to dry without embellishment. He was a master copy editor who came of age on desks where breath-pause commas were exorcised in bloodily fought rewrite sessions.

He was a journalist’s journalist, a wordsmith.

Born to a coal-mining family in eastern Kentucky, Leo, whose opinion was sought by governors, had a right to tell a rags-to-riches story. But he was careful to give the credit to his hard-working parents who when the mines closed eschewed welfare and packed up their children for an unfamiliar life, in an unfamiliar city, in an unfamiliar state.

Having begun his education waiting for the library buses that visited rural Kentucky, his range of knowledge and depth of reading were unmatched. Yet, he loved Hallmark Christmas movies. Watched them year round.

Those who treasured Leo most knew him to be jarringly honest. That may be a great journalistic attribute but one can imagine how it might shorten one’s list of friends. That honesty would hit like an anchor thrown overboard. The conversation would stop, we would be forced to back up and think about what we had said.

A friend tells an anecdote that well describes this experience. A professor returned his student’s paper with the admonition, “Perhaps you need to read your words aloud, slowly and in a calm voice, and then tell me what you think they mean.”

Leo’s death leaves us adrift. We have nobody to read our words back to us. The staff and readership of The Indiana Policy Review already miss him greatly as does his weekly bridge club, two institutions where the conversation is in need of his constant monitoring.

This last year, Leo helped found a small group of friends dedicated to trying to find the truth about various and troubling things. Leo was its leader, fashioning the rules of discussion on the Socratic Method, that is, the presumption that wisdom begins with the realization you know nothing at all.

Leo thought of himself that way. His writing, though, gave him away. You can honor his memory by visiting our website at www.inpolicy.org and searching for the keyword “Morris.” There is a wealth of wisdom there from a man you can think of as your dear, dear friend. — tcl


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