Photo by Curt Yeomans
Clayton County Rotary Club founder Arthur Morrison laughs Wednesday as former Rotarians share anecdotal recollections of his years in the club, during a “Arthur Morrison Day” luncheon at the Clarion Hotel Atlanta Airport South, in Jonesboro.
The Clayton County Rotary Club was established more than 50 years ago because its founder, Fairburn resident, Arthur Morrison, was looking for a community organization in the county to join, so he could promote his Forest Park-based law firm.
Morrison said lawyers were not allowed to buy advertising space on television, or in newspapers, when he opened his firm in the late 1950’s. His father-in-law suggested he join a Rotary Club to raise his public profile.
That put him on the path to creating a club for the county, since Clayton County did not have one at the time. “We [local attorneys] all thought it was a good idea that lawyers couldn’t advertise, but you were encouraged to join civic groups,” Morrison said. “So, I told my father-in-law [who was a lawyer in Athens] that I was considering joining something like Kiwanis Club, or some other group, and he said, ‘Why don’t you join Rotary Club?’ ... I said ‘They don’t have one,’ so he said, ‘Then start one!’”
The Rotary Club that Morrison founded honored him by celebrating “Arthur Morrison Day,” during its annual former Rotarian “reunion” meeting on Wednesday. Several former Rotarians, and members of Morrison’s family attended the gathering to honor him.
Morrison, a graduate of the University of Georgia and Emory University, served as an officer in the U.S. Navy for just over three years in the early 1950’s. He founded the Clayton County Rotary Club, as the Forest Park Rotary Club in June 1960. He largely stopped being active in the group in 2000, shortly after retiring from his law practice, but he still retains “Honorary Member” status.
“This year, we decided to not only have a reunion, but to also spotlight our charter member, Arthur Morrison,” said Rotarian Claudia Mertl. “We just thought it would be a good time to honor Arthur for everything he has done, and continues to do for this club.”
As one former Rotarian after another got up to share anecdotal stories about Morrison, the good-natured ribbing led the meeting into something resembling a roast.
Former Clayton County Rotary Club President Jim Martino said Morrison was not a fax machine’s best friend when the device was first introduced. “He didn’t want anything to do with faxes,” Martino quipped.
Morrison would have Martino receive and print out his faxes for him, at Martino’s business. “One time, my daughter called him and said, ‘You have a fax here, Arthur. Would you like to pick it up, or do you want us deliver it to you?’ He said, ‘No, I’ll come pick it up.’ At that time, I think we were charging something like 45 cents a copy for faxes that we received for someone.
“So, he came in to pick up his fax, and it was about, oh, close to 100 pages. That was just about the last time [Morrison had Martino receive his faxes].”
Former Rotarian Alan Cunningham, who sat right behind Morrison at the luncheon, made a few “Older than dirt”-style jokes about Morrison and Martino, before praising the club’s founder for the volumes of institutional knowledge he possessed about the county’s history.
“I came to Clayton County, and joined Rotary in 1985, and Arthur and Jim were old men then,” Cunningham joked. “I think Arthur was here when they carved Clayton County out of the wilderness. He knows where all of the bodies are buried. Arthur has a tremendous history. If you ever get him talking, he’s got a lot of stories to tell.”
Morrison, for his part, denied having any recollection of some of the more embarrassing tales his friends shared, including tales about rainbow suspenders and Vidalia onion sales.
All kidding aside, however, several members offered thanks to Morrison for some of the things that he has done for their families over the years.
“He is smart, he listens, he remembers ... and he’s very humble,” said Rotarian Cathy Ratti, as she recalled an occasion when Morrison bought a video of the film “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” for her then-12-year old son, who had just gotten a part in a local stage version of the musical play. “His kindness and compassion are awesome,” she added.
After the luncheon, Morrison said he was almost speechless about the outpouring of support he received. “I’m overwhelmed,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I truly appreciate it.”