Click here to view photos of the Chapel Garden's construction.
Since May 29, 1932, the day on which it was consecrated, the Gibson Memorial Chapel has stood strong as the heart of Blue Ridge School. Well before its construction began in 1929, a young man by the name of John Joseph Morris attended Blue Ridge for both his primary and secondary education. Mr. Morris’ relationship with Blue Ridge has proven to be one of the most steadfast and compelling in the School’s history.
To honor Mr. Morris and his wife Genevieve Eddins Morris as well as their unwavering love for Blue Ridge, their daughter has recently made funds available for a Chapel Gardens and Landscaping Plan. This project, which will begin this spring, will serve as a beautiful memorial to John and Genevieve. It will also be symbolic of the difference that Blue Ridge School has made in young people’s lives since 1909.
John was born on May 24, 1907, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age six, he moved to St. George, Virginia, as he had been adopted by George Austin Morris and Susan Clementine Morris. The Austin Morris home adjoined the property of what was then called the Blue Ridge Industrial School. There is no doubt that John explored the campus even before he enrolled as a student. Since Blue Ridge offered elementary through high school instruction in the early 1900’s, John attended the School for a full ten years! He graduated in 1923, after which he enrolled in the University of Virginia where he earned a B. S. in Education in 1928.
After graduating from UVA, John returned to his alma mater to teach. No one knows for sure what subject he taught, but he was known for his love of history. After two years of teaching, he enrolled in the George Washington Law School where he received his law degree in 1933. This would mark the beginning of an illustrious career as a lawyer in Virginia.
John had also begun dating Genevieve. She was beautiful and certainly not fragile. In fact, she had typically ridden her horse from her farm in Madison County to her elementary school as a child. She would graduate from Madison County High School before meeting John. They fell in love and thought it would be a great idea to hold their marriage ceremony in the recently established Gibson Memorial Chapel. They did just that on October 20, 1936.
Perhaps it was their marriage on campus that sparked renewed interest in the School, or maybe that interest had really never diminished. What we do know is that John was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1940, the same year that he and Genevieve moved into their own newly-built home in Stanardsville. This marked the first time in the School’s history that an alumnus and former faculty member had been elected to the Board. He served in that capacity for seventeen years.
By all accounts, he became a major factor in Blue Ridge’s progress during those years as he served on the executive committee and as secretary to the general board, during which time he became known for writing quite detailed minutes. As he had become a trial justice in Greene County, he also served as the School’s counsel.
John kept quite busy outside of his Blue Ridge responsibilities, too. He was a member and vestryman of Grace Episcopal Church in Stanardsville where he taught Sunday school. He was also a member and past master of the Stella Piedmont Masonic Lodge. He was a charter member of the Greene County Lions Club as well.
His daughter recalls that in the summer of 1950 he suggested that the family travel across the country. Because of his love for history, he insisted that they visit every state capital along the route. In his leisure, he particularly enjoyed the sport of baseball, and he also held season tickets to UVA football games.
Sadly, John had begun a brave battle with cancer while only in his 40’s. He finally succumbed to this disease on November 11, 1957. Five years later to the day (Sunday, November 11, 1962), the trustees, headmaster and faculty of Blue Ridge School welcomed John’s family and his many friends to the dedication of the John Joseph Morris Memorial in the Gibson Chapel. To commemorate this occasion, custodians of the John Joseph Morris Memorial Fund presented to the Chapel a red velvet dossal to be placed on the wall behind the altar. The Fund also installed a new communion rail in the Chapel.
Genevieve began working for State Farm Insurance Company in Charlottesville after John’s passing. She was a fabulous cook, and her Tyler Pudding Pie was always in great demand at family gatherings. She, too, had grown to love Blue Ridge School, its campus and especially its Chapel. She was still living in the Stanardsville home into which she and John had moved back in 1940 at the time of her passing in 2011.
With her parents having been married in the Chapel and with the memory of her own marriage in that same Chapel, the daughter of John and Genevieve could think of no better location to create a garden and additional landscaping in loving memory of them. The project will focus on the beautification of the area behind and surrounding the Chapel. It will include a memory garden dedicated to John and Genevieve and will feature a water element as well as new sidewalks and a new driveway in front of the Chapel.
Associate Headmaster for Advancement and Admissions Franklin Daniels comments, “Gibson Chapel is the architectural gem and spiritual center of the BRS campus. This project will further beautify this important and sacred space – benefiting the entire community.” Faculty will surely want to exercise the option to hold their classes in this inspiring and bucolic setting, and other important events are already being planned to take place in this area. The project began in mid-June 2016.
For photos of the construction, click here.
"AS A HISTORY TEACHER, I THINK IT'S IMPORTANT FOR MY STUDENTS TO SEE THE PLACES THAT WE SPEND SO MUCH TIME TALKING ABOUT IN THE CLASSROOM. IT WOULD BE A SHAME NOT TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ALL THE HISTORICAL SITES AROUND US IN CENTRAL VIRGINIA; THE ANNUAL FUND MAKES DOING SO POSSIBLE."
– PETER BONDS, HISTORY TEACHER