Jim Morris didn't waste much time in the last 17 months of his life.
Jim passed away at age 53 on May 7 after a 17-month battle with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that's also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He had retired earlier this year as chief operating officer of Heritage Bag Co., a major plastic film supplier in Roanoke, Texas.
After being diagnosed with ALS in December 2014, Jim spent the next 17 months spending time with family and friends. He also traveled extensively both for recreation and to be part of studies and treatments that are seeking a cure for ALS.
Jim was a great person to talk to about all aspects of the plastics market. He knew it inside and out, front to back, as a result of 30 years spent first in resin sales and marketing, then in consulting and finally with a large plastics processor. Jim not only was extremely knowledgeable about the plastics industry, but he had a wonderful sense of humor when discussing its ups and downs, its accomplishments and where it fell short. You'd be surprised how rare that sense of perspective can be in this industry.
ALS is a fast-acting disease that often takes away muscle control and the ability to speak. This seemed especially cruel to someone like Jim, who really enjoyed a good conversation. I was lucky enough to interview him one last time in September, when his speech remained solid but was starting to slip a little. “My mind is fine,” I recall him saying.
In light of the impact on Jim's speech, it was wonderful that in addition to all of his travels and activities in those last 17 months, he started a website called Jim's ALS Journey that included a blog. Jim started the blog shortly after being diagnosed and updated it 13 times in those 17 months. The first entry was titled “I'm Going To Drop a Bombshell On You.”
Re-reading these entries now is both entertaining and heartbreaking. Jim dealt with ALS with bracing honesty and more humor than most people could have. He even posted videos of himself taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and of he and his wife Kim talking about their experience with ALS.
Here are just a few excerpts from the blog :
“Well this ALS thing is starting to get real for me. Last weekend, I sold my Harley. It's one of the toughest things that I've had to do. I sold it to a friend who I know will enjoy it like I have. Riding is all about the open road, the hills and curves and the people you meet and stories collected. It's been said that only a motorcycle rider understands why a dog sticks his head out the window. I will miss the experience more than I can describe.” – from “I Sold My Harley”
“How ironic is it that I watched all these videos on Facebook and I actually had the disease. I was not yet diagnosed but I had it. So here is my confession. I didn't participate in the first Ice Bucket Challenge – either by having water dumped on my head or by donating. I'm sorry to say but that's the truth. And I had it. Apathy is a terrible thing…This year, you can bet that I'm going to do both. I'll have a bucket of ice water dumped on my head and I'll donate as well. You see, I have a connection to ALS now and so do you – my friends following the blog and following me on Facebook. You now know someone with ALS. Consider yourselves challenged. Please plan to promote awareness and donate to ALS research when the 2015 Ice Bucket Challenge starts this summer. There are many options for you and I'll send a separate post between now and August explaining the groups to which you can donate.” – from “Ice Bucket Confession”
“I'm still laughing. I've got a lot of smart remarks to get out before I lose my voice. We serve an awesome God. This is all in His hands. We pray and invite you to pray for a slow progression.” – from “A New Year”
Jim Morris was a graduate of Texas A&M University and of the University of Dallas. He's survived by his wife Kim — they married in 1988 — as well as son James Tyler and daughter Niki.
A memorial service for Morris was held May 10 at Valley Ranch Baptist Church in Coppell, Texas. His family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the ALS Therapy Development Institute.
It's hard to look at Jim's experience – a man taken away with many good years ahead of him – and find a life lesson. Everything about it seems so very unfair. But the way he handled it was truly inspiring.
So in Jim's memory, let's try not to waste a single day.