- Associated Press - Sunday, November 2, 2014

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - When John “Johnnie” Morris came to Ketchikan from Sacramento, California, by way of the old Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Wickersham - which sailed from Seattle, not Bellingham, when he came north in 1973 - he needed things to work out in his favor in Alaska.

Morris, 68, retired from the U.S. Postal Service on Sept. 29. He was Ketchikan’s mail man - serving numerous downtown businesses and multiple residential neighborhoods - for 31 years.

“I got off (the ferry), I had a backpack, 40 bucks in my pocket, a one-way ticket, and I was just pretty cocky,” Morris said Friday. “I was like 26 years old, I felt like I could get a job. … And I did. I did a lot of different stuff. In the eight years before I went to work for the post office I was a logger, bartender, taxi driver, I went north when the pipeline was starting to get rolling, I worked on the pipeline until it finished.”

While Morris maintained a residence in Anchorage both when he worked on the pipeline and spent two years as a postman there, something has always brought him back to Southeast Alaska.

“I think it’s fair to say that my heart was here in Ketchikan,” Morris said. “All the times I’ve ever left and tried to live somewhere else, I’ve always come back here. … I’m just a small town guy. I fell in love with this town the first time I ever saw it in 1973. That love affair hasn’t entirely gone away yet.”

Morris‘ affection for Ketchikan hasn’t waned, even though he said the town is a little less fun than it was when he was younger.

“I think in terms of being a 26-year-old single, it was a wonderful place to be,” Morris said. “I tell the tourists that this was the best-kept secret in North America in the early ‘70s. Jobs were abundant, there was a party atmosphere everywhere that went along with that work ethic. … Anybody that wanted to get a job could get a job, come back to town - like from the (logging) camps - blow all your money partying and go back to work the next day.

“It was a wonderful time to be alive at that particular age, and this was the perfect place to be at that time,” Morris added.

However, Morris said he’s OK with the changes in Ketchikan and knows that change is a part of life.

In addition to his gig as a mail man, Morris hosts a weekend jazz show from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on KRBD.

“I have a lot of fun doing that,” Morris said. “One of the first LPs that I ever had as a teenager was (jazz pianist) Dave Brubeck. I’ve been a jazz fan, you know, my whole life basically. I was like every other 20-year-old in the 60s and 70s. I love rock music, I actually like all kinds of music. … But probably my main, my heart, is probably with jazz.”

Dr. Terry Thompson and his wife Carolyn Thompson have known Morris since before he started delivering mail to their office. Carolyn Thompson said Friday that Morris has a great sense of humor.

“No. 1, he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, he’s always good-natured,” Terry Thompson added. “He is just a character.”

Terry Thompson then recalled the story that led to a long-running joke between himself and Morris.

“The lady he’s married to, when he started dating her I happened to see them out and about and I thought I’d buy him a beer,” Terry Thompson said. “I told the waitress, ‘Buy Johnnie and the lady he’s with a beer.’ … I said, ‘Tell them it’s from his son.’

“From that point on, and this has been - oh my God, I don’t know, 20 years ago at least, maybe longer - I’d say, ‘Hey dad, how you doing?’” Terry Thompson added. “There were times when we had tourists in here, and John knew that, that they were tourists, and so I’d say, ‘Hey dad, how you doing?’ and he’d say, ‘Fine, son,’ and the tourists would kind of look at each other. I’d say, ‘How’s mom doing?’ and he’d say, ‘Well, she got a new parole officer.’

“That’s just the kind of guy he was, just a character,” Terry Thompson added.

“I just always looked forward to him walking in the door,” his wife added.

As for his future, Morris said he might look for something to keep him occupied apart from the weekend jazz show.

“The radio show does keep me pretty busy throughout the week because, actually, what people hear from me Sunday morning is kind of like the tip of the iceberg,” Morris said. “I do many more hours of preparation during the week before I go there on Sunday morning. That keeps me busy.”

Even if Morris does look for a part-time job to help him keep busy, he said he doesn’t plan on doing so in the immediate future.

“I’m enjoying my life right now,” he said.

___

Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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