A person's office can tell you a lot about who they are.
Larry Morris' desk is covered in neat piles of paperwork from a variety of projects happening throughout the city. It's noted that he works hard and stays pretty busy. His walls are covered with photos of his children, wife and other relatives. Morris is definitely a family man. Another photo is of Morris with his daughter in costume performing a show. He enjoys the arts. A small framed quote that reads, “Kissing a man without a mustache is like eating an egg without salt” is also on display. Morris has a sense of humor.
Morris, the engineering and utilities director, will be clearing that office in May when he retires at the age of 64 after 25 years with the City of Aiken.
Morris, originally from Kentucky, moved to Aiken in 1988 after he got a job as city engineer. Former City Manager Roger LeDuc, who, at the time, was the public works director, held the position open for three months until Morris could come into town for an interview. At the time Morris found the opportunity, his wife June was soon going to give birth to one of their six children, and he didn't want to leave home until after the baby came.
LeDuc understood, and his patience helped Morris gain employment in a city that would become his new, permanent home.
Morris later became the director of public works in 1998 when his job really heated up. His first major event as director was assisting crews fighting a massive fire at Carlisle Tire in November of that year. Morris' crews provided the water, pulling from both a plant and a detention pond in efforts to extinguish the flames. They also helped move hundreds of tires that were not burning to a safe area before the roof of the building collapsed.
It was a long night and a hectic yet vividly memorable way to begin his position as director.
Morris' title later changed to engineering and utilities director when his department was divided into two sections several years ago, but his work didn't slacken.
“I think when I came in 1988, I started running, and I don't think I've slowed down yet,” Morris said. “It's been very busy – there's lots of things going on in Aiken.”
Morris' impact around the city is seemingly endless, as he's been involved in many large-scale projects. He's had his hands on everything from water plants to roadways. He offered his expertise during the construction of the URS Center for the Performing Arts, oversaw several projects in Hopelands Gardens and helped with the redesign of the parkways in Downtown Aiken. Those are just a few highly visible projects that Morris played a role in.
Morris watched the city grow and change, saying the biggest challenge of his career was making sure that the charm of Aiken was maintained as it expanded.
At a young age, Morris developed an interest in the environment and the aesthetics of his surroundings. He grew up in a town in Kentucky that was closely located to Clarksville, Ind., which he said, at the time, was not the most pleasant of places. He didn't like what he saw and wondered if he could do anything about it, so he chose a career in which he could make a big impact.
“I always liked civil engineering,” Morris said. “I like to do things with my hands. I like to build things. I like to solve problems.”
Morris earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in engineering at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.
Morris credits his dad for his drive and ambition. His father, who passed away in 2008, quit school in the fourth grade to work and help support his family. He always encouraged his own children to accomplish the goals they desired to achieve.
“He was a truck driver all his life, and he just said 'you need to be better,'” Morris said. “There's nothing wrong with being a truck driver, not at all, it's good work, but he said 'I want you to do better.'”
Morris is not only an engineer, but he's also a performer. As a member of River of Life Church, he started a performance group about 15 years ago called Living Fire, which is a mix of puppetry, clowning and sign art.
“I am one of these folks who don't only enjoy the arts, but I've been blessed, and that's the only way to put it, blessed, with being able to do some of the art forms,” Morris said. “A lot of engineers, we're so technical that we sometimes forget that there are such things as arts out there, and I've been blessed not to forget and to be able to do some of those things such as sing and dance. I've been able to impart that to my young people – just a love of using the performing arts for God's word.”
Morris is also known for something else – his mustache, which dates back to 1972. When he first came to Aiken, he didn't have a beard because of some training he had to undergo, which required him to shave it off. Most Aikenites are familiar with Morris's friendly, often smiling face and his signature 'stache.
“Nobody has seen me without the mustache, and few have seen me without the beard,” Morris said laughing.
Morris doesn't plan to slow down much after retirement. He will remain active with the Water Environment Association of South Carolina and the Voluntary Certification Committee for water collection operators. He also plans to do some contract work for a few consulting firms.
For whoever fills his shoes, Morris' advice is to have a sense of humor and remember that this is not the typical 9 to 5 job, as he's responded to various utility emergencies with his crews before or after normal working hours. He remembers long days cleaning up tree limbs after large storms hit the area and even longer nights resolving issues like water main breaks.
When Morris retires in May, he'll be able to do so with many fond memories and the feeling that he's accomplished a lot in more than two decades on the job. He commends his hard working crews that have made his time with the city so enjoyable, saying that it's not a job he could do without his staff.
“I think the best thing to say about my tenure with the city, there have been so many people, so many things that have just been positive, just great. “I've loved it. I've loved my time here and I'm not moving, we are retiring in Aiken,” Morris said. “It's been a great ride.”