Robert C. “Bob” Morrish was one of those rare high-school teachers who are larger than life. His love of literature, zeal to impart that love to students, flare for drama, and displays of good-natured zaniness made attending his English classes at Justin Siena High School (Napa, California) a true joy. I was lucky enough to have had him for both Junior and Senior English.
Mr. Morrish had a large beer mug from which he drank water during class. On my first day of Junior English, he walked in, got the mug out of a desk drawer, handed it to me, and said with a mischievous grin, “Could you go fill this up for me, young man?” Off I went, as the rest of the class let out a good chuckle.
From Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Charles Dickens, Mr. Morrish instilled in his students an appreciation for the classics. He would come into class, sit down behind the desk, and launch into a philosophical discussion of the day’s reading. He had passion for the various characters — Pip, Lizzy and Darcy, Lady Macbeth — that seemed to bring them to life. Having read the works many times never dampened his enthusiasm for them — indeed, quite the opposite. He would often remark, “The characters in these works — I’ve read them so often, I feel I know them.”
He insisted on attention to detail. Our essay assignments were each worth fifty points, and one spelling mistake would result in a loss of ten points. I wish I could say it was never a problem for me, but, well, let’s just say I was finishing up high school as word processors, with their attendant spell checkers, were beginning to gain in popularity.
Mr. Morrish had a passion for opera and musicals, The Pirates of Penzance being among his favorites. He regaled his classes with tales of his excursions to the opera in New York City, dressed in a cape and top hat. After one performance, he visited Tavern on the Green. The maitre d’ asked if he could help him. Mr. Morrish handed him his card and said emphatically, “Robert Morrish, SIR!” “Yes sir, right this way, sir,” replied the maitre d’. Another time he was getting into a taxi after leaving an opera. On noticing his costume, the driver asked, “Are you a magician?” Mr. Morrish replied, “No, but I can walk down the street and turn into a bar.” The driver laughed. Being “jaded” teenagers, we thought it was corny. I sure wish he was still around to know how funny I think it is now.
Mr. Morrish had the sort of dedication that seems increasingly rare these days. He taught at Justice Siena High School for 38 years. He influenced countless students and became friends with many of them. As a result, his funeral is sure to be a big affair. I’m sure he would have enjoyed it.
I just hope there are no spelling mistakes in this remembrance. Otherwise, Mr. Morrish is in Heaven somewhere giving me a minus ten.
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