The Coast community is mourning the death of its preeminent birding enthusiast, Jay Morris — a man described by family and friends as gentle and kind.
Morris, who served as the Sun Herald birding columnist, died Friday morning at the age of 57 because of a heart ailment.
“He’s always been the kindest man that I’ve had the honor of knowing,” said Jan Patton, his twin sister. “He was gentle, and he was thoughtful. He always was there for anyone that needed him or needed his help. He was a fine man. Those that did know him, that’s exactly the kind of man he was.”
Morris, who lived in Saucier, served as the Sun Herald birding columnist for more than a year, providing insight into the Coast birding community every Sunday in the sports section. He wrote his columns under the name J. Morris.
His final column will run in Sunday’s edition of the Sun Herald with the first sentence providing insight into his passion for birdwatching: “In the history of the planet, there has never been a species more diversified or interesting than our birds.”
Morris dictated his final column to his sister from the hospital on June 21.
“It is rare to find a birder who has such a love for the hobby and who also has the talent to write interesting columns,” said Scott Hawkins, the Sun Herald’s features and sports editor. “Morris, the late Judith Toups and former birding columnist Ronnie Blackwell were those rare individuals. Jay was proud to have carried the torch launched by his predecessors, Toups, who died in 2007, and Blackwell, who stepped down due to illness. Morris did a great job. I will miss Jay’s contributions to the Sun Herald’s Outdoors pages as will, I’m sure, many readers.”
Morris retired as a security guard from Memorial Hospital at Gulfport in 2014 because of his heart condition, but his passion for birding continued as his health worsened.
His weekly column became a point of pride for Morris, his family and friends.
“He thoroughly enjoyed doing that column,” Patton said. “Without a doubt, he spoke of it often to everyone. Everyone knew he was doing a birding column. He encouraged everyone he talked to to read his column. Even relatives out of state, he told them how to get online and find his birding articles. He was very excited about it and enjoyed it very much.”
Morris developed his birding hobby more than two decades ago and quickly developed in-depth knowledge.
“After getting his first set of halfway decent binoculars, he realized there were so many different varieties of beautiful birds. He was in awe of this,” Patton said. “A new world opened up to him. From then on, he got the bug and he never, never stopped after that. He was learning everything he could about every new bird he’d find or see. His knowledge of birds came so easy to him. It became a passion of his.”
Morris also had a zeal for conservation and played a significant role in refurbishing the Clower-Thornton Nature Trail in Gulfport after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He led trips along the trail for his fellow birding enthusiasts.
One of the many people who Morris inspired to take up birdwatching was a close friend of his, Evelyn Laird.
“He came to my house one time and it was one of those weird times where we had snow and everything was frozen over,” Laird said. “We had a bubbling bird bath. I was standing at the kitchen window and I said, ‘Jay, come look and see.’ He said, ‘Those are Cedar Waxwings. They look like God held them and painted them by hand.’ That always stuck with me.”
Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.