Piggott Mayor, Regional Leader, Gerald Morris Dies at Age 80
The City of Piggott, and much of the region, continues to mourn the sudden death of Mayor Gerald Morris this week. Morris died just before 9 a.m. Thursday, June 26, at St. Bernards Regional Medical Center in Jonesboro. He was 80.
A standing-room-only crowd packed the First General Baptist Church of Piggott on Saturday as Morris was memorialized and remembered as a public servant, missionary and world traveler.
Morris had been hospitalized nearly two weeks at the regional hospital as he battled the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis, but had remained alert and responsive throughout. According to family members, his condition took a turn for the worse on Wednesday and he slipped into coma-like state and never regained consciousness.
In response to the sudden death of the mayor, city offices were closed Thursday and remained closed Friday with only essential personnel on duty.
During last week's regular city council meeting the aldermen heard an unofficial update on Morris' condition, which at the time was promising. Council members also discussed the protocol of taking care of business should the mayor be unable to fulfill his duties. Under Arkansas state law, in that event the city clerk assumes the role and has the authority to sign contracts and handle city business with council approval. With the untimely death of Morris, City Clerk Ramona Magee has been pressed into service.
Throughout Saturday's services Morris was remembered for his giving nature, his love of family and for his service to his state and community. During the service he was memorialized by his brother, Irvin, in both words and song, along with his pastor, Chris Brantley. The funeral message was preached by Morris' younger brother, Gary. The services also included special music by his nephew, Craig, joined by his wife and children.
Morris was active not only in the local business and political scene, he also was a missionary for the General Baptist Church and sat on several boards and commissions. During his lifetime he had traveled to all seven continents, including Antarctica, and had only recently completed a trip to Africa.
He was elected as the mayor of Piggott in 2002 and was nearing completion of his third term in office. He had announced it would be his final term, planning to retire from the political arena at the end of the year.
In addition to his duties as mayor, he also was active in regional economic efforts and with the Arkansas Municipal League, serving on the executive committee, first class cities advisory council, investment committee and district court task force. He also was a member of the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition, Northeast Arkansas Chief Elected Officials, Arkansas Byways Association and served on the board of the General Baptist Investment Fund.
He was on the board of the East Arkansas Planning and Development District, serving as chairman, along with the boards of Piggott Community Hospital and the General Baptist Nursing Home.
The role he played in promoting Northeast Arkansas, and the county, was evident to all and best summed up by Corning Mayor Dewayne Phelan as he left the funeral services -- "we've lost a good man in Mayor Morris, and a good friend of Clay County's."
The sentiment was echoed by the region's state lawmakers, with State Sen. Robert Thompson noting, "I was very upset when I learned of Mayor Morris' passing last week. Gerald was a great leader, who was respected all over the state. He always gave me good advice and I'll miss him."
Thompson's feelings also were shared by his counterpart in Little Rock, State Rep. Joe Jett of Success. "What stands out to me was that he did so much for not only Piggott, but he also understood the importance of a regional approach and in taking care of your neighbors in the region," Jett offered. "I thought of him not as a mayor, but as a statesman. That's something a lot of people strive to become, but very few actually reach that level. I counted him as a friend, and I am truly going to miss him."
Those feelings were also shared by Brian Haley, who had served under Morris for much of his time in office, most recently as utilities manager for the city. "We spent a lot of time together, and traveled to meetings and such, so I got to know Mayor Morris pretty good," Haley remembered. "And, all I can say is most of us here with the city feel we not only lost a boss, we lost a friend."
As a lasting tribute to his memory, the family has requested memorial donations to one of Morris' favorite charities, the food bank of the First General Baptist Church of Piggott. Donations may be sent to the food bank in care of the church, at 679 South Taylor Avenue, Piggott, Ark., 72454.