UI community mourns death of recent grad

By Matt Spartz

A homeless man asked James Morris for some spare change as James strolled down the main bar strip with friends in Carbondale, Ill. Even if James had the change, he didn’t give it to him – he took the homeless man into the restaurant where he was about to eat and fixed him up with an entire meal. From then on, whenever James walked down that strip the homeless man was not far behind.

This big-hearted generosity and love for people is what is most remembered of James Hunter Morris, who was killed in a car accident on Sept. 16. While the 2005 University graduate and second-year student at Cornell Law School, Ithaca, N.Y., was driving his Corvette around the dark curve of a rural road, James lost control. The car swerved off and onto the road again before it flipped over, presumably killing him instantly.

James’ friends and family said he was the type of guy that filled a room, whether it was at Joe’s Brewery, where he was a regular, or a mathematics course for which he was the student teaching assistant. Hearing the large “white boy” known as “Coconut” walk into Calculus 120 whistling Lil’ John’s “Get Low” was always the pick-me-up that Scott Nixon, senior in LAS, needed for that 8 a.m. course.

But James helped Nixon with more that year than inputting lines of code. James was always there to lend an ear or grab a quick meal.

“How often do you get to say that if it wasn’t for my TA, I might not have made it through that first year?” Nixon said.

Professor of mathematics Jerry Uhl handpicked James for his teaching assistant position after recognizing his genius.

“He picked up the math probably faster than anyone I’ve ever had,” Uhl said. “And I’ve been teaching for 38 years.”

A solemn, worn-down Tau Kappa Epsilon brother of James’ sat in the Starbuck’s on Green Street after a long weekend visiting James’ wake and funeral. Shiraz Sherwani, senior in LAS, remembered how the man they called Farva, after the “Super Troopers” character, would come by the house when all of his work was done to just hang out with the guys.

Sherwani was one of the many people James met through being a teaching assistant that eventually developed into a close group of friends.

“He had an infinite amount of patience when he was helping someone with math,” Sherwani said. “He would always have more patience than I did to just sit there and go through it as many times as they needed to get it frontwards and backwards.”

Sometimes after those early classes James would coax everyone to head to the Union for some breakfast. Walking over to their table he would lay down an entire tray of food he had bought, insisting that everyone had better help him eat it.

This would become his trademark – getting joy in being able to treat others to a nice meal or persistently winning a battle over the check at a restaurant.

As a member of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, James laughed at the stereotype of a frat boy and was more than another regular at Joe’s Brewery. James simply loved to share his downtime with friends while having a beer or two. Well, maybe even a beer or two more than anyone else in the room could hold.

“Everybody knows the ‘Animal House’ stereotype,” said Nixon. “He would go out with his friends and have a few drinks, but he would go into class and be the star student.”

True to any sibling rivalry, James wouldn’t let his sister, Jennifer Aden, outdo him. James followed the family tradition of graduating from high school in three years, and his mathematics degree from the University was with distinction. This summer he served as a judicial intern for U.S. district judge, J. Phil Gilbert.

James was home in Carbondale before he was supposed to have two internship interviews in Chicago when the accident occurred.

The conversation James had a few months back with his best friend, Bill Blanchard, was supposed to be just another one of those beer-induced, philosophical conversations. But Blanchard takes comfort in what the two happened to talk about – what they would do in case one of them tragically passed away

“He said that he had a good life,” Blanchard said. “He loved his family, and (that) he was blessed to had been born with that family, and his friends had always been there for him. And if he were to die tragically, he would not want people to mourn because he had already had it better than most people ever will.”