In Memory

Dick Morris - Class Of 1961

BY BARBARA MORRIS — For someone who had lived in Hyattsville only since 2008, Richard A. Morris knew a lot of people in the city. But some are still unaware of his death, which occurred on Nov. 21, 2017, at the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma hospital in Baltimore, after three weeks of complications following spinal surgery. Even those who occasionally came to Richard’s rescue have trouble understanding how that last fall could have resulted in his death at 74 years old. Most people experiencing such falls would not suffer broken bones, but in 2004 Richard was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer in which malignant plasma cells in the bone marrow interfere with cells that keep the bones strong. With internet research suggesting a one-to-three-year life expectancy, but having instead survived thirteen years, Richard often saw his life in terms of that 2004 diagnosis and dividing line, remarking, “And now I have six grandchildren and four novels!”

His social justice novels — available locally at Franklins Restaurant, Brewery and General Store and Busboys and Poets — were the final phase of a purpose-driven life in which Richard was aware of wanting his life to make a difference. In graduate school, he was a driver for Cleveland mayoral candidate Carl Stokes, who eventually became the first black mayor of a major American city. Richard was so inspired by Stokes that he began to think that politics was the key to changing the world, which prompted him to change his direction in life. 

Richard dropped out of graduate school, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. His year-long “camping trip” in Vietnam (Richard was in A/2/5,1st Cavalry Division [Airmobile]; Vietnam 1967-1968) was the basis for his war satire Cologne No. 10 for Men and his Skytroopers CD of 19 songs that he wrote during that year. More recently, in his blogRichard summarized each of the ten episodes of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary series, “The Vietnam War,” and added commentary regarding his own life during that time period. 

Also in this blog, one can search the term “Agent Orange” and find ten different posts in which he discussed this subject, though never mentioning that for Vietnam veterans, his multiple myeloma is a presumptive Agent Orange disease. 

In one of Richard’s final blog posts, “On the Wrong Side of History,” he wrote about Hyattsville, saying that “It is a city where neighbors proudly act upon values that seem to me to be on the right side of history. In a time when everyone wonders where the future political leaders will come from, I feel so fortunate to have strong leadership on the right side of history in my own city.”

Partway through his year in Vietnam, Richard decided that politics was not the key to changing the world — instead, law or business was the answer. He took the GRE in a Quonset hut in Vietnam and, upon his return to the U.S., entered and graduated from Harvard Business School. His plan was to get involved in the construction of prefabricated houses and eventually immerse himself in “the great problems of rebuilding the big cities.” 

Richard learned the basics of prefabbing at Hodgson Houses in Millis, Mass, and then relocated to Garrett County, where his parents had retired.  There, he built over a hundred houses and established a prefab housing company, Shelter, Inc., which made wall panels for builders. It was during this time that he invented his Paneldrape system of window insulation, a wall system with insulating panels that slid over windows in an era when even the best windows had little resistance to cold. He also experimented with passive solar heating. 

The latter part of his career in housing was at the National Association of Homebuilders Research Center in Upper Marlboro and the National Association of Homebuilders in Washington, D.C. Richard initiated U.S. research into shallow, frost-protected foundations and won acceptance for the method in the International Building Code and International Residential Code for all types of buildings. Other work of his resulted in the requirements for interconnected smoke alarms in bedrooms and vertical grab bars for bathtubs in hotels. Richard wrote numerous technical publications about building codes, energy conservation, foundation design and construction, lead paint and remodeling and universal design. 

Richard’s final novel, Masjid Morning, incorporates his experiences in construction part in a book that, as homebuilder Jay Endelman described, “moves effortlessly between technical descriptions of a mosque rising from the ground like a living being and the emotional struggles between religions.” This novel also reflects Richard’s involvement in Hyattsville meetings to learn about Islam, as well as his concerns about Islamophobia in this country.

Richard’s novels Canoedling in Cleveland and Well Considered reflect other time periods in his life. Canoedling in Cleveland is about a canoeing adventure in the 1960s that stemmed from his inquiry to his high school newspaper advisor as to why his community was all white. Never getting a satisfactory answer in high school, Richard, as a senior citizen, created book characters who would sleuth out the answers in fiction. Well Considered also reflects his concerns about racial justice and came about during the twenty years when he lived in Bowie and studied the history of Prince George’s County.

Having followed his daughters Jennifer Sheppard and Audrey Engdahl to Hyattsville and eventually building a multi-generational home in which to live with the Sheppard-Ruby family, Richard quickly became involved with author events and festivals such as Hyattsville Arts & Ales, St. Jerome’s Carpe Noctem holiday boutique, and the Riverdale Arts Festival. He also tutored for a couple of years at Hyattsville Elementary School, volunteering with the school’s Lego-robotics club there and being a sponsor for their Zombie Run. He was also an enthusiastic attendee at music programs there and at Hyattsville Middle School. Richard participated in two Hyattsville book clubs: the Bridging Cultural Gaps meeting at the Hyattsville Municipal Building and the Busboys and Poets book club.

Richard’s memorial service was held on Dec. 16, 2017, at University Christian Church, with friends from various parts of his life attending. It was at this service that Hyattsville residents met son Alex Morris, from Derwood, whose tribute to his dad was an often-mentioned highlight of the service. Richard also leaves six grandchildren: Brandon Weston-Morris, Ben Ruby, Robin Engdahl, Joe Ruby, Elvy Engdahl and Paul Sheppard.

Barbara Morris was married to Richard Morris for 50 years and remains his partner in sharing his legacy and keeping his books alive.


go to bottom 
  Post Comment

11/30/17 07:59 PM #1    

Dick Morris (1961)

Having a little difficulty being able to comment on the most recent additions: Thank yous to several people. Rick Boswell, the canoe story was wonderful and solved a mystery. Dick kept trying to remember who went on that canoe trip. He thought it was Don Warner; was never able to get in touch with Don Warner. I had heard most of the stories before about the trip. However, a very similar story to the rescue of the other canoe appears in his novel, Canoedling in Cleveland -- and I always thought it was totally made up!  Barbara





12/02/17 08:53 PM #2    

Frank Norcross (1961)

The Rick Boswell story is an enjoyable tale of planning, courage, and adventure by Dick and Rick.  It is a fitting tribute to Dick.  Please provide full information on Dick Morris's memorial service.  Some of us may actually be close enough to attend. 

12/03/17 11:53 AM #3    

Betsy Grenfell (Poling ) (1961)

Here's the updated info about the Memorial service, Frank:

Memorial Service

Richard’s memorial service will be held Saturday, December 16, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at University Christian Church, 6800 Adelphi Rd., Hyattsville, MD20782. This location is between our closed-for-construction Hyattsville library and Northwestern High School. It is the church at the intersection of Adelphi and Belcrest Roads.

This is a service only with no reception or food event at the church after the service. Barbara plans to greet you at the church prior to the service but then exit soon after the service to be at home to receive anyone who would like to come by to visit in the afternoon, either immediately after the service or later (with snacks, drinks available). If you encounter old friends and want to hang around for a short while at the church to chat with them, there will be a church official present who will oversee the exit of our group and lock up.

This is a “come-as-you-wish” event; Barbara has seldom been out of blue jeans since retirement in 2004 and does not consider “dressing up” to be a sign of respect. Extending that, as you might guess, it will not be formal nor somber. Please join us in celebrating Richard’s life. And also check back in at this site for any further information we may put out in the coming days.

Use the website that is indicated in the original notification for further information.

01/24/18 04:15 PM #4    

Mary Ellen Watts (Allan) (1961)

It was a treat to catch up with Dick at our last reunion, and to read his book Canoedling in Cleveland.   He was one of our class’s treasures.  My sympathies are with you, Barbara;  thank you for sharing the beautifully written story of hs life.

01/26/18 09:38 AM #5    

Adrienne Pfahl (Schmidt) (1961)

55th. Reunion:  Drove down Lake Road to an old familiar location.  Kensington School within viewing and friends waiting to greet.  It was a great start to our reunion.  The meet and greet with old and new friends, the hugs, laughs and the memories.  I did some table hopping and joined Dick and his wife for a sit down conversation.  He shared facts about all of the books he had written and that a new book was coming out.  His eyes sparkled (just like the younger boy I had know) when he spoke of his adventures.  His wife entered the conversation at times and I could see the satisfaction in her face with Dick's telling of his stories.  I was able to keep up with them on FaceBook and was aware of the publishing of his book and the path his life was taking.  He is and will be missed.



04/18/18 03:15 PM #6    

Merilynn Nunn (Hyland) (1961)

It was with great sadness that I learned of Dick’s passing. I enjoyed being his fiend in high school, working on the school paper with him. We both enjoyed writing, and loved words. I was happy to meet up with him and his lovely wife at a reunion , especially the bus tour of Cleveland. I read his books and enjoyed ‘canoodling ‘ back through time. May he Rest In Peace  


04/19/18 07:51 AM #7    

Barbara (Morris (Wife Of Dick)) (1961)

Merilyn, you were such a great supporter of Richard. We both appreciated that you read and commented upon his novels. And, regarding your support of his earlier work efforts while he was with NAHB, somewhere I still have a printout of the message you sent thanking him for being responsible for the grab bars to hold onto when stepping into bathtubs in public accommodations. Barbara Morris





11/10/19 09:02 AM #8    

Barbara (Morris (Wife Of Dick)) (1961)

I see that WETA will be airing The Vietnam War, a film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick, today 11:00 a.m.-6 p.m. and Veterans Day tomorrow (11/10/19) 6 a.m.-5 p.m. and streaming on the PBS video app. (I am on Eastern time in Washington, D.C. area). Dick and I watched the entire series when it came out; each day he wrote a blog post summarizing the episode of the night before and telling where he fit into the scenario. These posts, starting 9/18/17, were written just before he died 11/21/17. They continue to be viewed from all over the world on his blog.

11/22/20 09:02 AM #9    

Barbara (Morris (Wife Of Dick)) (1961)

From Dick's wife, Barbara Morris - My Facebook post from yesterday 11/21/2020

I should not let November 21 slip by without posting Richard's video from three years ago. Richard Morris, August 16, 1943-November 21, 2017.

go to top 
  Post Comment