By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
For 32 years, on just about every second Monday in the month, Donald Morris attended a Tarboro Town Council meeting. In the beginning, Morris served as a councilman while the last 18, he presided as mayor.
After December, Morris will be absent. The 71-year-old — who says he's not a politician — recently announced that he will not seek re-election.
"When I first went into office, I was 39 years old and now I'm 71," Morris said. "I was very much interested in representing the ward that I was living in. If you figure in when I start voting, which was 21, over half of my adult life has been spent in local politics. Now, it's time for me to step away and spend time with my family."
After the unexpected death of Mayor Moses A. Ray, Morris was appointed mayor in 1995. Ray was well-liked by his fellow councilmen as well as the citizens. Morris, who is also well-liked throughout the town, was apparently the right heir to the town "throne". After Morris was appointed, he ran for re-election four times without opposition.
"I hope that means that the people believed in me because I did what was right," Morris said. "I hope that means that they looked at me as a fair-minded mayor who was committed to do what was best for the town and our citizens."
Morris became involved in politics to be a voice for Ward 3 He said he never envisioned becoming the mayor for his hometown of 10,000 people.
Perhaps that was in the making by the powers that be. Morris soaked in as much knowledge as possible about governmental affairs and law. Along the way, his friendly demeanor made him one of the most respected elected officials in Tarboro. Therefore, after Ray's untimely death, it was almost a sure bet that Morris would be appointed by his peers to fill the vacancy. That's was nearly two decades ago.
Today, those councilmen have long been removed from the board for one reason or the other. However, Morris continues to be one of the most respected among his peers and by far the longest tenured board member. Listed among the highlight of Morris' tenure is operating the town without any bond debt. Others includes the expansion of Superior Essex, construction of Hillshire Brands (formerly known as Sara Lee Bakery) and KCST, an industry that produces car parts for Honda. Morris said he and his family were on vacation in Florida for the grand opening. Morris recalled coming back home just to fulfill his obligation as the mayor. There were other accomplishments, but Morris was to modest to mention them.
"There's been some good times, bad times and medocre times in the last 31 years," he said. "I can't say that I personally had major accomplishments because it has been a good core of people with me — the council, and all the employees working together to help grow our economy. I think we've been successfull.
"I'm leaving the town while it is in good financial condition. I'm proud of that also."
Councilman Al Hull is in second longest tenured councilman on the board with six years of service. Hull said he wasn't surprised by Morris' announcement.
"We will miss him, but we will manage to go forward," he said. "It will be hard to replace him. It hurts to lose someone with that type of experience. Hopefully some younger person with some experience will take his place. I hope the voters will come up with a viable candidate."
When Hull was asked if he would run for the seat he replied, "I don't think I'll be doing that."
Four-year Councilman Rick Page severed a few years as the mayor pro tem. Page also retired from the town as its public work director. He said Morris was "great" to work with in both capacities.
"Since I've been here, he has been great to work with," he said. "He does anything to make the Town of Tarboro a better place for all citizens. That's something you don't find any everyone."
Page said he is considering running for the seat.
Councilman Taro Knight, who is also serving his fourth year, currently serves as mayor pro tem. Knight said, "I enjoyed my four years serving on the council with him.
Knight said he has been asked to run but, "At this time I do not know whether or not I will run for mayor."
Tarboro's municipal election is scheduled for November. Winners of the election will be sworn-in in January. As of Wednesday, no one had publicly announced their intention of running for the mayor's seat.