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Friday, Aug. 22, 2014

Faces & Places: Royston Morris - Driving passions

Thursday, March 18, 2010

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One of Morris' many works of art made from various types of eggs. His creations are similar to that of Faberge eggs famous in Russia. The top photo is of the outside of the bottom egg.
Just as America is a melting pot of people from all over the world who move to this great country from points all over the globe for reasons as unique as them, Cherokee Village is also a melting pot of Sharp County. The city is comprised of people from locations near and far, each with very unique and intriguing backgrounds. The retirement area was created to give those opting to retire in the peace and tranquility of the Ozarks an affordable option to living in the city and enjoying their golden years surrounded by the pristine beauty of the rolling hills and rivers of Sharp County.

Royston Morris, a native of England, is no exception. As this month's Faces and Places topic, Morris' noteworthy background and even more interesting and unique choice of a hobby, sets him apart from the average painter, collector or golfer. His journey through his long and interesting life will trace his youth through his eventual choice to retire in the area.

82-year-old Morris' childhood roots go back to England where he was born in Bristol in 1928. At the age of 14, Morris chose to leave home as a result of family circumstances and went to work for over a year in a tobacco factory. At the age of 15, Morris joined the British Army, telling officials his age was 17. He spent the next 12 years of his life serving his country. Morris explained that during that time officials were not very concerned with verifying age because it was during the war. He worked on General Montgomery's staff at the war office, which is equivalent to America's Pentagon. During his 12 years in the British Army, he was in charge of much classified information and paperwork for the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE), which would later become NATO. During this time he spent time in Egypt and Palestine and was later returned to England on a hospital ship. He spent his last five years in the military with intelligence in the war office.

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He said he came into a lot of money just before leaving the Army and later bought into a limousine company. The company was one which used to transport him from Bristol to various locations while in the military. He became friends with company owner and familiar with the inner workings of the limousine company and began chauffeuring. He said he always made his clients feel very important and later lost everything in the company, including his first wife due to his partner's activities including absconding with all the money. After clearing up the financial mess, he finished up in London working with a company that had contracts with the Royal household. It was at this time, he said he "was able to be of service to the Royal Family", at one time driving Princess Alice from Kensington Palace to Clearance House for an afternoon tea with the Queen Mom, Queen Mary at that time. Laughing ,Morris said, "During this time, I made the greatest fauxpaus of my life." He went on to explain that protocol demands you never speak to royalty unless they first speak, and then only when looking at the center of their forehead, not directly into their eyes. After the princess exited the car to the red carpet and accompanying servants, the princess came toward him and said, "Thank you driver for a most comfortable ride," to which Morris replied in his best military style and accent, "My honor and pleasure sir." He said she did not react to the obvious mistake in referring to her as the opposing gender. This he said was the highlight of his chauffeuring days.

Later in his life he got out of the chauffeuring business and had an opportunity to work for a specialized company that transported diamonds, gold, silver and platinum. He was a bullion courier. Morris was trained by Scotland Yard, and was one of only 15 men in the country at that time who were authorized to carry a firearm. He explained, in England the police did not carry firearms. He said he has delivered some very valuable things. During his career as a bullion courier, he would go to the docks and collect gold coming off the ships from South Africa and planes from locations all around the world. One noteworthy job was hauling 12 tons of solid gold bars for the Bank of England which had arrived from Russia on an airplane. He laughs and tells the tale of that very foggy day when he served as an escort on a delivery to the bank with three vehicles each with 4-tons of gold. He said coming back from Heathrow Airport to "The Old Lady of Thread Needle Street," which is the nickname for the Bank of England, was quite an adventure. He said because of the fog, traffic and the security involved in the transportation of such a huge load of gold, stopping, securing a path and moving forward toward the bank was very time consuming. The frequent stops at each and every crossing, Morris said eventually forced the gold in the vehicle to shift and move forward and into the cab resulting in a fortune worth of gold bars eventually coming to rest around the driver's feet as he drove. He said he also transported diamonds for various diamond merchants around the world whose identity to this day he can not reveal. He said he would go into the back room at the dealers and put on a vest loaded with diamonds and then deliver them armed with a .32 or .38 in a shoulder holster to the diamond dealers around the globe.

Morris then came to the United States delivering diamonds and during that time got to know people in New York. In 1974, as a result of a blind date set up by clients in the city, Morris met Carol, the woman who would later become his wife. She was a widow with two young sons and would spend the rest of her life with Morris. Because of his not having a green card in the beginning, he could not legally work for an employer, so he began a lawn care business. Beginning this type of business was strange to him, because as Morris said, "You don't get that in England, people going around cutting other people's grass as a profession, because we are a nation of gardeners." He went on laughing and said the general consensus among the British is, "Touch my grass and I will kill you." Because he was a gardener, Morris then went to Rutgers University to expand upon his love for plants and studied landscape design eventually opening a New Jersey based lawn care business. One of his customers later offered him a permanent job working in home maintenance that did not pan out, leading Morris to then begin his own home maintenance business when he was not working in landscaping.

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Royston Morris, formerly from England, at his home in Cherokee Village.
He said while in New York some years later, he ran into an English chauffeur with an all too familiar accent. The man was a chauffer for the chairman of a pharmaceutical corporation. The chauffer told Morris of his impending retirement and thus took Morris' phone number for later reference. A few months later, he was offered and accepted the chauffer's previous position. At that time in the late 70s early 80s, terrorism was beginning to become prevalent and kidnappings of executives were becoming more rampant. American companies then began to realize the dangers to their important executives and sent Morris to Texas A & M to take a course in defensive driving, evasion and anti-terrorism techniques to help with the protection of the executives. The course was taught by race car drivers on the World Speed Racetrack. Morris said, "I very much like driving, it's a passion with me."

Morris later moved to Kissimee St. Cloud, Fla., in 1985 and worked for Disney for a short while and then got back into landscaping for a few years. Later his mother-in-law's illness and eventual death forced them to move to Stuart, Fla. For the next 15 years, a medical health services company in administration employed Morris. He worked with a team in the medical capacity until he was 79 and contracted bladder cancer. Morris then took a 6 month medical leave and essentially retired. He said while in Stuart he found a retirement magazine in which he read about Mountain Home. After getting in contact with Gilbert Realty he and his wife considered the properties and took a vacation to come to the area for the first time in 2006. Morris said, while on vacation in the area, he saw an ad in a local newspaper advertising a home for sale in Cherokee Village. As a lover of fishing and golf, the seven lakes and golf courses offered in the advertisement were very appealing to him. He and his wife made the trip to Cherokee Village and fell in love with the area and moved here in 2006, first renting a town house and then purchasing his home overlooking the lake. He and his wife were able to spend some great times together before her death in late 2008 following a lengthy illness.

Currently Morris makes great use of his time, with a beautiful studio at the back of his home; he keeps busy painting anything from portraits to landscapes and everything in between. He said the studio and potential of the backyard, as well as the view of the lake were the main reasons for purchasing the home. His home now has a great backyard view, something he said he created with his skills in landscape design from the muddy mess that was initially behind the hillside home. The rock and flower garden undoubtedly give him great inspiration for his paintings as well as an outlet for passing time. He said he was so excited about the upcoming Spring season, undoubtedly as yet another opportunity to garden another love of Morris'.

Not only does Morris enjoy golf, painting and playing piano, but he creates unique works of art from various types of eggs, something he said deems him an "egger" the actual name given to people, who like Morris practice the art of creating egg art. The detail in each is similar to that of Faberge eggs famous in Russia. He has a showcase of his creations and an entire wall in his studio dedicated to the thousands of embellishments for the eggs from golden and jewel like beads of every color in the rainbow, to animals, baby carriage fixings and anything in between. He has eggs in every size from ostrich to very small hen eggs with which he performs tedious hand detailing work and cutouts, many of which open in more than one piece. Each egg is as unique as the foul that laid them. One looks like a bird, others are baby carriages, one is even a replique of a famous Fabrege egg, known as the Lily of the Valley, an egg presented to the czar of Russia to his mother in 1898. The detail in each of his creations is unbelievable and as Morris says, "Each one has a surprise inside." He has sold several of his eggs but said it is a hobby, not a job and when asked why he didn't market them, he said he didn't want to have the pressure to produce large numbers of his eggs; they are very time consuming and detailed. He said jokingly, "Old eggers never die, we simply crack up. After 35 years of marriage and being faced with living alone, Morris is beginning to become very inept at keeping himself busy and even enjoys cooking and recently made a trip to the White River last weekend where he caught some beautiful trout.

Currently the bladder cancer he initially contracted has returned. He has recently undergone surgery and is currently in remission, something no one would know because of his upbeat and positive attitude, sense of humor and love of life and the little things. Morris said his first three month checkup will come in April and optimistically said he is going to beat it again, and if attitude is half of recovery, Morris should recover nicely.