Rodney Morris, 71, of Middlebury


MIDDLEBURY — Rodney Lloyd Morris died peacefully at his second home in Holiday, Florida, on May 24, 2021. He was the son of Robert Lee and Madalyn V. (Hurst) Morris, and is survived by a daughter, Caitlin of Vergennes, and two brothers Robert L. “Peter” of Burlington, and Brent J. “Jay” of Dillon, Colorado. He was predeceased by a sister, Donna Rae. Three of the important women in Rodney’s life were Susan Rule, his former wife; Claire Shutte, his long-time partner; and Penny Battison, his soul mate.

Rodney was born in West Stewartstown, New Hampshire, on August 15, 1949, and after moving to Vermont attended Spaulding High School in Barre. Interspersed with touring America as an archetypal hippie (and living out of a hearse), he studied at Castleton and Goddard Colleges, and graduated from Norwich University in 1985.

A quote from the American philosopher James Hillman nicely summarizes Rodney’s life. “There is no teaching without love, and no love without teaching.” Rodney was a natural-born teacher, and because of his many interests — chess, cars, carpentry, theater, printing, sailing — and his natural generosity, one always felt that even in casual conversation, one would learn from him. His first official job came under the aegis of Columbia Teachers College. Rodney spent several years in Afghanistan teaching photography to Afghan students, and traveling the country in a Land Rover, photo-documenting, for a new, locally produced textbook, the complicated tapestry of Afghan life. It was during these years that he built a sailboat, painted it red and, with his inimitable wit, named it the Ruby Yacht. (As in the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam.)

Back at his home in Addison County, he taught, for many years, Alternative Education. He insisted that it not be called “Special” Education: Students with ADD, or ADHD, and the like, he realized, could learn as well as anyone — but not linearly, not through reading. A consummate psychologist, he simply covered with a sheet the books in the classrooms where he taught, and assigned his students two or three tasks at once, building a kayak, say, while developing film in a darkroom, while planning one of the many field trips they took, for example to Gloucester to study commercial fishing, to the science museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, and to a succession of Habitat for Humanity projects, one as far away as South Dakota.

After retirement, Rodney started a driver-education company called Arrive Alive. Here again his enormous powers of empathy — his ability to get inside the thought processes of his students — produced both great success, and great appreciation. Of all the driver’s-ed teachers in Vermont, it was not unusual for his students to have the highest rate of success in getting their licenses on the first try.

Rodney will forever be lovingly remembered by his family, his friends, and his many devoted students. A celebration of his life, and of the good fortune of those who could call him friend, will be held at Mr. Up’s Restaurant on Saturday, August 28, at 2 p.m. ◊

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