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Community, colleagues remember Roger Morris

| September 27, 2006 12:00 AM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

Roger Morris took pride in calling Libby a town with a real heart.

The town showed that heart Monday when nearly 300 attended his memorial service.

Editor and publisher of The Western News, Morris died Thursday, Sept. 21, three months after doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer. The 54-year-old career journalist three weeks ago learned the cancer had spread to his brain.

Morris leaves behind his son, Christopher, of Bozeman; his parents, Roger Morris Sr. of Parker, Colo., and Catherine Jones of Tucson, Ariz.; a brother, Brian Morris of Aurora, Colo.; and a sister, Michelle Simpson of Crested Butte, Colo.

Roger Morris also leaves behind a community that appreciated all his efforts.

A tireless volunteer, Morris served on the Libby Nordicfest and Lincoln County Library boards, and with Libby Rotary Club. He also was great supporter of Libby Public Schools, and loved the outdoors, especially mountain climbing.

"He always said he wanted to quit work and just climb mountains," friend and colleague John Desch said during Monday's service at the Memorial Center. "He can climb heavenly peaks now."

Prior to coming to Libby, Morris served as a reporter and later as editor and general manager of the Country Times in Gunnison, Colo., and the Mountain Sun News at Crested Butte, Colo. Morris and his family in July 1992 moved to Libby after Troy's June and Mark McMahon, former owners of The Western News, hired him as their editor.

"We ran newspapers for 37 years," the McMahons said. "Perhaps the smartest thing we did during that time was to hire Roger Morris and bring him to Libby. He loved newspapering and he accepted responsibility readily. Moreover, he was great for Libby and Troy. We miss him already."

After Hagadone Corp. took over The Western News, Morris was named publisher in 1999 and continued as editor.

Jim Thompson, head of newspaper operations for Hagadone Corp., referred to Morris as a man with "passion that would keep our organization on track."

"Roger was a very respected member of our team," Thompson said. "We knew we could count on him. He was a journalist and was very passionate about it. His opinions weren't always that popular, but I can assure you he felt them with his heart."

Chris Peterson, editor of Hagadone's Hungry Horse News, called Morris "one of the good guys."

"One of the behind-the-scenes facets that make a newspaper like the Hungry Horse News work is cooperation with other weeklies in the state," Peterson said. "This week our team mourns one of its players."

"Here at the Horse, getting a phone call from Roger was a pleasure," Peterson continued. "He'd ask us to take a photo for him if we could (usually sports) and then we'd shoot the breeze about the latest hike we'd been on or the story we'd wrote or the latest piece of equipment we just had to have. Before you knew it, an hour had gone by, though it never felt that way. Those conversations won't soon be forgotten."

After Al Randall, retired director for Lincoln County Libraries, got to know Morris through his volunteer work with the library foundation board, they became close friends and hiking partners.

"When you needed help, he was always there," Randall said. "He was one of those people in life that when you get to know them, you've known them your whole life."

"He was one of the brightest guys I ever met," Randall continued. "He had the ability not to let that show. That's a positive ability."

Libby attorney Ann German noted that Morris was connected to the lives of everyone in Libby.

"Roger will be remembered as a strong and important link," German said.

Barb Desch and her daughter, Heidi, and Libby Mayor Tony Berget combined a presentation of photos with music for the memorial service.

In hopes of building a memorial for Morris, everyone was asked to bring a rock to the service for constructing a large cairn, which is a marker found along hiking trails. Rocks are still being accepted at The Western News.