Today if you would drive through Pottsville, Arkansas a small community that sets humbly to the east of the I-40 interstate you would see several church buildings after coming under the railroad tracks. After driving a little further you would pass the elementary, the middle school, and the Oates Cattle farm. Then without knowing you might pass a baseball complex that is hidden down a narrow paved road known in Pottsville as Rev. Thomas G. Morris Sr. City Park Athletic Complex. This is the park he was “instrumental in developing” says, Martha Morris.
Thomas Gideon Morris Sr. was the son of the Charles Emory Morris and Mary Ida Medlock Morris. Thomas was born on November 19, 1923 in Tucker, Georgia, about six years before the Great Depression hit. His father and mother were both college graduates, Mr. Morris, Erskine College graduate in Due West, North Carolina. Mrs. Medlock, graduate from Young Harris College in Georgia. They had four sons and one daughter. Thomas was next to the baby. Both of his parents taught school out of college. Mr. Morris lost a cotton gin and property during The Great Depression, and “all he had left was his house” said Martha Morris.
Martha Morris is his wife, and mother of their two children, the late Thomas G. Morris Jr. and Rebekah Morris Roberts. She lives in the house they moved into over 30 years ago. She talks about her husband when he was 19 years old and in the United States Army Air Corps. He was in the 2nd Air Force B-24 Bomb Group. Martha goes on to say, “Thomas was in the service in fact all four sons were in the service during World War II.”
She points to his many medals on the wall. Next to his medals hangs a picture of him and his troop. Then the last plaque she has was presented to both of them at the Pottsville city hall from the Pottsville Historical Association. It reads: “Presented to Rev. & Mrs. Thomas Morris: For their diligent and successful work with the churches, friends, and community of Pottsville October 2002” They served community together.
She moves to the dinner table to open up the scrapbook collection she has made from his army days “it is a collection” she says as she takes out a picture of him when he was a baby. She takes another picture of him that hangs on the Pottsville Associate Reformed Presbyterian church. She says, “This is one of the last pictures of him look at his smile” They looked the same. “The same exactly the same that is unusual.” She takes out a letter written by the Captain, which was read at his funeral. “They read the first paragraph at his funeral” she tells me as she flips through more hand edited papers that he has written for baccalaureate and graduation services that he was asked to speak at.
She talks about their life before moving to Pottsville. They were married on October 1st 1948 in Tucker, Georgia. They lived in a house that they had purchased with money Thomas received from the serving in the army. “I worked and he had the G.I Bill,” The G.I Bill allowed him to go to college. Thomas graduated from Oglethorpe University, and Columbia University with a Bachelor’s of Divinity in Decatur, Georgia. This was the same year that Thomas G. Morris Jr. was born.
He has a small office where part of his collection of books sits on the shelves. “He was great on Matthew Henry” Martha mentions as she points out the several different commentaries. Calvin, and Henry sit comfortably on a shelf retired after being in combat with the Reverend as he studied, and prepared to deliver sermons that he typed out on an old typewriter. “He typed every sermon…these days you have computers” She opens Thomas’ pastoral record “he was a pretty good bookkeeper” he recorded every baptism, wedding, and sermon in this book he purchased with “some money that someone gave him for graduation”. “He did over 655 funerals, “ she explained as she flipped through to some of the first funerals he had done. His first funeral in Pottsville was Mrs. C.T Bryson, the preacher’s wife that was at the Associate Reformed Presbyterian church before he started pastoring there.
He served a faithful thirty-eight years as a pastor, but that wasn’t the only hat he wore. He served on the city council in Pottsville; he was the chaplain for the Arkansas State Police, where Mrs. Morris recalled a time where Thomas had to take a call. “It was one of the hardest things for him”. Being a chaplain you have to break some news that isn’t always the “good news”. He volunteered as a firefighter, on the Salvation Army Board, and the historic Potts Inn Board. He also served on some boards nationwide. He was on the Erskine College Board in Due West, S.C, served as the Moderator of Mississippi Valley Presbytery, and the Synod.
Even though he has collections of books he also has collections of letters somewhere in the world that he sent out to members of his church, random people in the community, his army buddies, and others who wrote him because they needed encouragement. These letters are probably in books, and scrapbooks that others have collected that he was so dear to.
There is a man in the community that became a pastor in at a small Southern Baptist church before he had the chance to meet Rev. Thomas G. Morris face to face. Jim Huffman is the pastor of what he would call a “small country church”. He lives, and encourages everyone around him to live by the motto, “God doesn’t lead you to a place, but He leads you to a people”. God has led this man to several people, both in the community and in the state. He is on his way back to Arkansas when he says, “I didn’t really know Reverend Morris, but I do know him and respect him because of the many testimonies I have heard from others who did know him”. He goes on to add, “He took opportunity to minister to people…He even pastored the Baptist church”. The church that Jim pastors at didn’t exist at one time in the community, but Jim goes on to say that “But he pastored those people before they had a pastor”.
She gets up to move into their dining room. She flips open a scrapbook she kept for her only son. There lies a page of kind comments in memory of Thomas G. Morris Jr. “Read a couple of those, it sounds like Reverend Morris, but it was about his son he was in the public so it made me feel wonderful”. She points to another one posted from a man who knew Thomas Jr. from Texas. With joy she says, “I thought that was unusual, but it sounds just like Mr. Morris…it sounded just like his daddy I am proud of him”
There is a memorial just before the ball fields at the park he was “instrumental in developing”. It reads: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send and who will go for me and I said, ‘Send me” from the book of Isaiah the sixth chapter, and eighth verse. “ And below it goes on to read, “As instructed by the father this was the Life Rev. Thomas G. Morris lived serving his country during World War II. Always they’re for his church, community, school, and their athletics program. A loving husband, father, and grandfather. Daily visiting the poor and needy regardless of your Denomination he was there like a ray of hope. Lest we never forget this kind man this lasting memorial made possible by family, and many friends who loved him you will be missed”. Above this is a picture of his face a smile for all the people that come to visit. “Even though his home was at Pottsville, his heart was wherever there was a need,” said Carolyn Kendrick, one of the leaders of the fund-raising effort for the memorial. His home is in Heaven, yet needs a still being met in the small community of Pottsville because of one mans smile.