Morris, 68, the former chief photographer for The Hutchinson News in Hutchinson, KS, where he grew up and photographed the life of an entire community, died there last week in hospital after suffering a heart attack just days before.
He was with theNewsfor 32 years, from 1953 to 1985, and after Morris retired he opened and ran a photography lab, Jim Morris Lab and Lens. He was a journalism graduate of Hutchinson Community College, a 1955 graduate of Hutchinson High School, and he also spent 30 years in the Kansas Army National Guard. While at the News he had been, over the years, a photo engraver, a graphics director, a photo editor, as well as the chief photographer.
GarySettle, a two-time NPPA Newspaper Photographer of the Year and a past president of NPPA, remembered Morris as both his best friend from childhood and his best man at his wedding more than four decades ago. “We played together when we were kids in Hutchinson when we were 9 or 10 years old. We lived across the street from each other. My father was a serious amateur photographer who taught me and Jim how to develop film and make prints. One summer, my folks and I invited Jim to go with us on a two-week vacation trip to Colorado and Utah. We were about 12 or 13, taking stupid tourist pictures. In high school, we both became photographers for the school newspaper and yearbook. We clowned around a lot.
“When I was a sophomore, Sunday editorFredWulfekuhlergave me a part-time job in the photo lab at what was thenThe Hutchinson News-Herald. Within weeks he also hired Jim in a similar job. After high school, I went off to college then became (Rich)Clarkson'sfirst intern in Topeka. But after high school, Morris stayed full-time at the Hutchinson newspaper. He built his career there, becoming the head photographer for decades, and also the photo-engraver. He won some regional monthly NPPA clip contests and built up a pretty good little photo staff. He hired several good young shooters, includingPeteSouza.”
Souza, a national and international photojournalist for the ChicagoTribuneand former White House photographer for President RonaldReagan during Reagan’s second term, was hired at the Hutchinson News by Morris. “He was my first boss after I left graduate school at Kansas State University. He taught me – the young, over-enthusiastic photojournalist – a few lessons without having to say anything.”
“Not long after I got there, we had a huge fire in the downtown area. There was smoke and flames everywhere, Souza remembers. “Being a young, I tried to get as close to the action as possible. Jim disappeared from scene for a while. I didn't know where he had gone. Later, in the darkroom, I found Jim printing his best pictures. He had gone into a building nearby and talked someone into letting him go up on the roof. The picture he made from there really showed the enormity of the fire, and I realized my pictures from up close didn't tell the story nearly as well. So Jim taught me that Robert Capa wasn't always right.
Settle remembers that Morris took early retirement to open his camera store. “He knew so many people that it became so popular that it drove the other camera stores in town out of business. He never took vacation. His wife (Barbara) and daughter (Teri) helped him out at the store and friends would sometimes hang around. Half the people in town seemed to be his friends.”
Morris was working at the camera store when he was stricken, Settle said. "His heart attack hit him there, while he was shutting down the machines at the end of the day. Barbara was with him. Suddenly finding him on the floor, she called 911 and kept him going until help arrived."
At his funeral Saturday, daughter Terri said that it was at the camera store where she and her father became best friends, spending time together, and that he loved teaching photography and spreading the joy of it to others.
“Jim was a very good guy and a good shooter. That entails a lot. Some people go off to seek fame and fortune; some people choose to stay and have solid careers at home, under the radar, and live satisfying lives doing responsible community journalism,” Settle said. "Jim Morris and I inadvertently discovered photojournalism together, years before we ever heard the word 'photojournalism.' He stayed home; I went off to see the world. I've always considered him an unsung hero."
In addition to his wife and daughter, Morris is survived by a brother, a sister, and one grandchild