For St. Paddy’s Day, a last toast to Shamrock

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An excerpt from a story written by T. N. Morrison.

By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large

For this scribbler, it became a tradition to reminisce on or close to  St. Patrick’s Day about the newspaper editor who gave me my start in the business.

He is, of course, T.N. Morrison, who hired me at the Tribune way back in April, 1969. He was best known as Tommy Morrison, although I always called him Mr. Morrison, out of deep-seated respect, I guess. That, and because he was my boss.

He hired me on a whim and a prayer, I’ve said this before. The whim was his; the prayer, mine. I’m forever thankful it worked out for both.

You couldn’t ask for a better boss, a better teacher, a better cheerleader, a better friend. Mr. Morrison was all this – not just to me, but to everyone who had the opportunity to work for and with him, I daresay.

He and his wife Marg lived at 66 Regent St., in the east-side King Street neighbourhood for many, many years. Their home was known as the Shamrock Inn and it was the venue of many parties – St. Paddy’s Day parties and otherwise. A confrere, Louis J. Cahill, former St. Catharines newsman turned public relations communicator, would tell me about some of those good times over dinner. Both these storied practitioners of the printed word are gone now, but both live on in memories.

On St. Patrick’s Day, you could count on Mr. Morrison to arrive in the newsroom wearing a green sport jacket, white shirt, gray slacks and green bowtie or tie. “Top o’ the mornin!’” he might say while walking by.

Fortunately, I’m not the only former newsroom staffer still with memories about the much-loved Managing Editor. Another is Bob Chambers, one of the newspaper’s two full-time photographers back in the day (Chambers was on staff 1957 to 1970). He comes into this story on a whim and prayer – both mine.

I was hoping for a photo of Mr. Morrison – one that had not been in circulation for a while, out of the public view. Chambers e-mailed an eloquent response, part of which appears below:

“So do I have a photo of Tommy? Not that I know of. Even the Tribune Staff photograph of the entire editorial department including all the district offices – Dunnville, Port Colborne and Fort Erie – that ran in the newspaper’s Centennial edition (1962) doesn’t include Tommy. He didn’t want to be in it. He said that the staff did all the work. So, he took the picture – well, clicked the shutter of the tripod-mounted camera, after Cec Mitchell and I set everything up. He even refused a photo credit line.

No, I’m afraid that all my pictures of Tommy are filed in my memory bank. Like every day, at 1:15 as I remember, the good ship Morrison sailed majestically through the newsroom, as back from lunch at home with Marg, he was ready to Captain our ship for the afternoon, including putting his final stamp on that day’s Page One and writing one or more of the next day’s editorials. Often his office door was closed for the writing bit, but basically it was never closed at any other time. How do you photograph things like that. But how I wish I did.”

Mr. Morrison gifted me with some mementoes a few days before he retired in September 1972, after setting aside this and that from deep in his desk drawers for personalized keepsakes. One is a draft copy of the story he had written for the newspaper’s 100th anniversary special edition. I still have it, tucked away in one of the hard-cover compilations about The Tribune’s history.

Then there is photographer Cec Mitchell’s contribution to this reminiscence.

Mitchell, known affectionately as the “Happy Snapper” by newsroom staffers, has a photo of Mr. Morrison on file somewhere, but he could not place his fingers on it in time for this post.

He did, however, turn a memory into a lasting image, so alive is it in its conveyance:

“I’m sure it was before your time there but for a few years the gang decorated Tommy’s office for St. Patrick’s Day. One year Tommy arrived at work to find his chair already occupied – by himself!

The gang had borrowed a mannequin from his brother’s store (Morrison’s department store, 603 King St.) and his wife Marg had sneaked out some of his clothes to dress the dummy. A balloon for the head, a hat and a life-sized cut-out photo of his face completed the figure. A bottle of Irish whiskey and a glass on his desk completed the scene. After the surprised Tommy had his photo taken with the scene, he left it and worked at a desk in the newsroom until Mr. Foster (Henry J. Foster, the publisher) arrived to view the scene.”

Could this be the photo that lensman Mitchell might have amongst his files? I wish! Where is that picture – what a pile of gold for a St. Patrick’s Day remembrance it would be!

Thomas Nixon Morrison’s career at the newspaper started in November, 1929 as sports writer/editor. He was the newspaper’s longest-serving Managing Editor, 1952 to 1972. In total, 43 years and then some – what a headlined career!

For this scribbler, old traditions die hard. For St. Patrick’s Day, I will again drive by the old homestead that used to be known as the Shamrock Inn and call to mind one T. N. Morrison – “Tommy” to most people, Mr. Morrison to me.

Then I’ll have a Kilkenny or two, as in past years and maybe a shot of a choice Irish blend with a friend, savouring for one last time the warmth of the experiences and the memories left us by the gentle man and gentleman who liked being known as Shamrock.

CAPTION: Shown is an excerpt from the story that was written by the Tribune’s T.N. Morrison for the newspaper’s 100th anniversary edition in 1962. The draft was given to me as a parting gift shortly before he retired in 1972. (Photo by Joe Barkovich)

 (A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario.)

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