Jo Morrison of Kingsport was charming and delightful, all smiles and all giving. She loved to talk and enjoyed meeting new people. Close friends, of which there were many, would say that she was as good as they get, and more.
She lived 105 years of a wonderful life devoted to being of use to any in need, and her passing April 6 leaves many happy memories and lots of tears. Jo was a friend to anyone who needed one, and she had time to make many. She built her life on the biblical instructions from Jesus to feed the hungry and welcome strangers in need. “He said that if you’re a follower of mine, that’s what you’re supposed to do — love people and quit judging. Pitch in and help with whatever their needs are,” she said. And that she did.
A longtime member of the Kingsport Affordable Housing Coalition, in 1985 she co-founded the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which has built or remodeled more than 300 houses in Northeast Tennessee. She served as president of the Habitat board for a number of years, helping to establish Habitat in Johnson City, Bristol and Elizabethton.
She was born Sept. 10, 1916, in Charlotte, North Carolina, with both parents dying in the 1918 flu epidemic. She and her brother were lovingly raised by their aunt and uncle. She graduated from Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia. A natural leader, she was elected president of the student body at both colleges.
She served as director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, and in 1939, came to Kingsport as director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church. In 1940 she married Robert Hall Morrison Jr., another Charlotte native working at Tennessee Eastman.
In 1945 they helped start Waverly Road Presbyterian Church, where she became the first woman to be ordained an elder. She subsequently served in leadership roles at every level of government in the Presbyterian Church.
She served on the Holston Presbytery Camp Board and also as president of Church Women United. Over the years, she taught Sunday school to every age group, teaching an adult class until she was 100 years old. She was a longtime leader of Waverly Road’s Shepherds Prayer Group and served as a Girl Scout leader and leader in PTA. She was later recognized for her efforts with the Elizabeth Ann Hay Volunteer Award, and in 2017 she was presented with a Habitat Lifetime Award. In 1988 she was asked to serve on Gov. Ned McWherter’s Task Force on Housing.
She worked with the Kingsport Housing Authority to establish the Kingsport Housing Coalition, which she chaired for 10 years. She also served on community boards such as the Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Kingsport Safety Council, Kingsport Library Board and Contact Concern. She was a Kingsport Centennial Women of Impact award recipient and a Peace College Distinguished Alumna award recipient. At 103, she began her final major labor of love, the Kingsport Homeless Ministry for the purpose of providing housing and a full spectrum of services at Grace House for the homeless.
“She demonstrated and lived her love of individuals because she knew she was loved by God,” Morrison’s dear friend of 35 years, Betsy Preston, said.
“She was a shining light,” said the Rev. Will Shewey of Shades of Grace United Methodist Church, which works closely with the homeless. “A big light went out when we lost her. But she left lots of little lights in Kingsport.”
Jo Morrison will be long remembered for her life’s work and legacy and as a true servant of the Lord.