by Mary Ellen Jernigan
Shirley Morris passed away on August 10, 2015. An active Federationist for nearly fifty years, Shirley and her husband Don (high school sweethearts who had eloped during their senior year) celebrated their fifty-ninth wedding anniversary earlier in the year. Their life-long partnership was so complete that one rarely thought about "Shirley" or "Don." Rather what came to mind almost invariably was the unit which one thought of simply as "the Morrises." It is difficult to think about Shirley without feeling the warmth of her seemingly ever-present smile.
Shirley joined the Federation in 1968 at the time Don was one of Dr. Jernigan's students at the Iowa Commission for the Blind Adult Orientation and Training Center. Not merely an "accompanying spouse" Shirley quickly became a Federationist in her own right. Many came to know her as the capable manager of convention registration processes and the compassionate problem solver when an individual had troubles—be it a mangled spelling on a name badge, a lost banquet ticket, a lost cane, a lost wallet, or, in many a case, offering comfort to those who felt that they themselves were the "lost item" and were in need of encouragement. At the national convention (in later years often with a grandchild in tow), and at the Maryland state convention, Shirley carried out these tasks with dedication, grace, and that radiant smile for more than thirty years.
A lesser known fact about Shirley is that in the early 1970s when the national office of the Federation was located in the Randolph Hotel Building in Des Moines, Iowa, she more or less single-handedly managed what today we would call the Independence Market and the Materials Center. At that time there were very few sources where a blind person could buy such things as Braille watches, Braille playing cards, measuring devices, and so on, and Dr. Jernigan asked Shirley to help get our program underway and to otherwise manage the operation of that office.
Most often we tend to think about the value of participation in the Federation in terms of what it does in the lives of blind people. Far less frequently do we consider and recognize the very significant gifts all of us—whether blind or sighted—get from the kind of training and life experience the Federation offers. In the case of a sighted Federationist, I am talking about something more than merely having a blind spouse or sighted children who have blind parents or sighted parents who have blind children and the benefits gained by such families in their understanding of blindness.
Shirley gave deep expression to what I am describing in how she dealt with her cancer. Having fully understood and embraced the tenets of the Federation for much of her adult life, she knew the path she would take. So for eighteen years she refused to let cancer be the characteristic that defined her life. She did the things that it made sense for her to do with respect to it, making this or that accommodation in the way she did things as necessary, and then she lived the life she wanted to live. The low expectations of others never came between her and her dreams. She lived with love and joy and hope—radiating those qualities to her family and others in her wide circle of friends and admirers. She combined her very considerable natural attributes of grace and generosity with her Federation training to leave to those of us who loved her a profound legacy for living.