Thornton Whatley Morris, native of Plainville Georgia, died peacefully in his home on his family farm on June 9, 2023. He was 82 years old.
Thornton was born in Rome on May 20, 1941, the son of the late James Paul Morris and Mary Jane Powell. He spent his formative years with his maternal grandparents on their farm near Plainville, growing up hunting, fishing, and learning the workings of the farm at his grandfather’s side, along with many aunts, uncles, cousins and friends nearby. His later childhood found him in Athens and later Birmingham, though he always considered the farm his home.
After graduating from Phillips High School in Birmingham, Alabama, Thornton attended University of Alabama to begin his undergraduate degree before transferring to University Georgia to graduate with a BBA in 1962 and his law degree in 1965.
He began practicing law in Brunswick, Georgia, where by chance he met and began to represent Robert and Lucy Ferguson of Cumberland Island, a relationship which would lead to Cumberland becoming a passion and a home to him for the rest of his life.
One of Thornton’s proudest accomplishments was authoring the legislation which designated the Cumberland Island National Seashore, walking it through the Congressional process before being signed by President Nixon.
Thornton dedicated much of his life to the preservation of the Island and fostering a positive relationship between the landowners, the National Park Service, and the public, whom he delighted in seeing on the Island as they came to appreciate a place that was so special to him. He could often be seen on the main road and always stopped to offer rides and impromptu tours to tired hikers. He founded The Cumberland Island Conservancy, Inc., as a way to continue his work of bringing people together to enjoy and preserve Cumberland Island for generations to come.
After a few years on the Georgia coast, Thornton moved to Atlanta, working briefly for Georgia State University before starting his own firm. Professionally, he became known for being a skilled negotiator who always looked for solutions with minimal conflict and maximum benefit for everyone involved. His work took on more and more of an entrepreneurial nature, and he expanded into a number of his own businesses while continuing to practice law. At the time of his retirement he had been a member of the bar in good standing for 59 years.
Thornton believed there were lessons to be learned not just from success but from failure as well, both personal and professional. Through these he developed a strength and wisdom that led him to mentor countless people over the years. He was an invaluable counselor and friend.
Thornton woke up every morning grateful for another day to be alive. He looked at his life as an adventure which led him down many diverse paths; he became a Master of Foxhounds with his own pack and hunt at Harlech Farm, he climbed Machu Picchu, sailed to the Galapagos, and spent significant time all over the world.
In his later years, he enjoyed slow country drives around northwest Georgia with his wife Mirim, riding around the farm with his beagle Bess, going out for lunch at Stanley’s in Rome, and spending time with friends and family. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in March 2021.
Thornton will be remembered for his enormous heart, his generosity, his strength, and his sense of humor. He loved people and even as Alzheimer’s took many of his memories, he always remembered the faces and names of friends and family from all periods of his life.
Thornton is survived by his wife C. Mirim Morris, his son Thornton Whatley Morris, Jr. and daughter-in-law Ann Lazzo Morris, his son Scott Whatley Morris and daughter-in-law Lee Taylor Morris, his daughter Vann Morris, and his step-children Ash and Ben Damen. He is also survived by his four grandchildren, Rachel and Emily Morris and Louise and Wilson Morris.
Funeral services will be held on Friday, June 16th at 11:00 am at St. Peter’s Episcopal church in Rome, GA, with a reception in the church hall after the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Alzheimer’s Association in Thornton’s name.
Salmon Funeral Home is honored to serve the family of Thornton Whatley Morris.