Gary Morris music, friendship give peace to fan
All who hear the amazing voice of Gary Morris agree it is uniquely beautiful.
But for Kentucky resident Sherrie Turner, Morris' voice is more than entertainment -- it helped her survive two major surgeries and the loss of her voice. She has repaid him by being one of his most dedicated fans, and she and friend Debbie Sumpter were among those who attended Morris' Dec. 10 concert in Rector.
Turner, who in 2002 received a permanent tracheotomy and now speaks through a valve, first became a Morris fan in the early 1980's. She had no idea at that time the weight that connection would carry in her future.
A native of Highland Heights, Ky., about six miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, she was a student at nearby Northern Kentucky University when she went home for lunch one day in1981 to find her mother watching the local Bob Braun Show, that day featuring Gary Morris.
"He was the live entertainment, singing 'The Love She Found in Me,'" Turner said. "I was captured by THAT voice -- that voice that just speaks to my soul. I had to find out more about him -- and I did just that."
Turner followed Morris' schedule, attending his performances anywhere in her area for several years.
"I saw him at the Executive Inn in Owensboro, Ky., several times over the years -- maybe 15," she said. Traveling frequently with Sumpter and/or her niece, Julie Hess, Turner also traveled to see Morris perform in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and several other locations in Kentucky.
"Julie and I flew to Fort Worth around Christmastime in the late 1990's for a Christmas show," Turner said. "We were able to attend a private reception with Gary, and we met his mother and father as well."
After Morris spent two years on Broadway in the '80's singing the starring role of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, he returned to Kentucky, singing at the Louisville Zoo with the Louisville Symphony.
"This was the first time we saw Gary since leaving Broadway," Turner said. "I will always remember Gary's expression when he started singing 'Bring Him Home.' When that symphony started playing, his face just lit up. This was the first time we had heard him singing this song. Awesome."
Her husband also made the Louisville trip, and, according to Turner, he knows every word to many of Morris' songs.
Turner's medical issue began in 1995 with what she thought was her yearly sinus infection -- but it never went away. She was told she had asthma.
"For seven months I went around short of breath, sometimes in a panic due to air deprivation, and with a very audible noise as I inhaled and exhaled," she said. "I went to an allergist hoping that maybe I was allergic to something that was causing the asthma. The doctor listened to my lungs and said they sounded fine and that the noise could be caused by an airway obstruction. He was right!"
Doctors found scar tissue which was causing her inability to breathe. The origin of the scar tissue remains unclear, but Turner said a logical diagnosis relates to severe morning sickness she experienced with her two pregnancies.
"I had morning sickness all nine months with both pregnancies, and they think some of it could have spilled over into my airway and caused the scar tissue," she said. "Something triggered the scar tissue, and it began destroying my airway and sealed closed my voice box. I was without a voice -- even a whisper -- for two years."
She had voice restoration surgery three years ago, with each of the two major surgeries requiring 10-day hospital stays.
"As soon as I would wake up in my hospital room, I would listen to Gary to relax," she said. "It really did reduce the amount of pain meds I required. I'd begin with his Christmas CD and then my CD with all my favorites. Gary even sent me hope-filled emails when I was having the major surgeries."
Since the throat issue first began, Turner has had 42 surgeries, most of the initial procedures to stretch out the narrow parts of her airway, which just would not stay open.
"I love all of Gary's music, but some songs just touch me more, such as 'How Did I Get Here?' (all about realizing how lucky you are), 'Again,' 'I'd Be the First to Fall in Love,' 'My Finest Hour,' 'Finishing Touches,' 'Love's Amazing Grace,' 'I Do,' 'Where Love Is Concerned' and 'Wind Beneath My Wings.'" She also loves his new Hymns CD.
"Gary is always friendly and gracious," Turner said. "Even back in the 80's and 90's, we would talk with him after the shows."
Turner has certainly made an impact on Morris, too. Shortly after arriving in Rector, as he prepared for the evening show, he spoke of Turner and the obstacles she has overcome.
"Gary's music has been so important to me for 30 years now," Turner said. "How lucky I have been throughout my life to find music that will boost my heart and speak to my soul...and to top it off, I have access to the person with that gift! The journey of life is comprised of trials and tribulations, joys and sorrows, and his music has been there in all of my life's journeys. Add in my gratefulness and my Christian faith and I feel especially blessed at Christmastime -- but I strive to keep the Christmas spirit alive in my heart all year. When I am able to do this, I feel accomplished and better able to cope with life."
Turner is proud that she received her Master's in May of this year. She currently works on the Northern Kentucky University campus at the Salmon P. Chase College of Law handling all of the law school's accounting functions.