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lives lived

Jean Morrison.Courtesy of family

Jean Morrison: Publisher. Leader. Mother. Grandmother. Born June 7, 1922, in Wilmot Township, Ont.; died Oct. 6, 2019, in Napanee, Ont., of natural causes; aged 97.

Jean Morrison’s tenure as a newspaper publisher in Canada is perhaps unmatched. She was in control of her newspapers, The Napanee Beaver, founded in 1870, and The Picton Gazette, Canada’s oldest community newspaper, until her death. Jean was co-owner of the Beaver from 1953, and publisher of both papers since 1978. She was a woman of grace, compassion, strength, integrity and indomitable to the end – traits that allowed her to shine in a role typically filled by men.

Jean Bier was raised in a German Canadian farming family of four children in New Hamburg, Ont. Her mother was determined that her children would escape the hard life of farming through education. After obtaining her degree from the University of Western Ontario, she taught math at a high school in Napanee until she met and married the local newspaper editor, Earl Morrison, in 1950.

The most moving story of Jean’s life was never published. In 1973, a trio of birth siblings, ages 13, 11 and 9, then living in a foster home, were hustled into a car and driven to a restaurant. They ate lunch with a social worker, who provided no explanation for this unusual outing. Unknown to the children, a middle-aged couple sat in the next booth observing them. A few months later Chris, Tracey and Leslie were taken to Napanee, where they were introduced to their adoptive parents, Jean and Earl Morrison. “We would love it if you called us Mom and Dad,” Jean said. Eleven-year-old Tracey agreed, saying she wouldn’t say those words unless they were going to be with them forever.

Jean loved golf, sang in a church choir, skied and played clarinet in a band into her early 80s and curled until she was 90. As a community builder, Jean sat on various boards and supported numerous causes, somehow maintaining that fine line between engagement and journalistic objectivity, so important for community newspaper publishing.

Jean Morrison at The Napanee Beaver in 1957. She was in control of The Napanee Beaver, founded in 1870, and The Picton Gazette, Canada’s oldest community newspaper, until her death.Courtesy of family

Jean rarely complained when life threw obstacles in her way, though Earl’s fatal heart attack at the kitchen table was tough. Jean was heartbroken and overwhelmed in the days that followed. “We went for many walks down our long country lane,” Leslie remembers. By then, she was the mother of three teenagers with two newspapers to run. “We will carry on and be strong,” she told her family, and plunged ahead as publisher of both papers. This was typical of Jean’s can-do approach to business and to life.

She once left her university-aged daughters to a trial by fire when she bought them a used car. In the car lot, they pointed out neither knew how to drive a stick shift, but Jean responded with her usual go-to line: “Oh don’t be silly, you’ll learn quickly enough.”

Jean never really retired but Tracey joined the newspaper’s management team part-time in 2016 to help. She continued to go into the office, taking part in decision making and signing cheques right up until her death. In later years, Jean’s son Chris moved in to help out and become her chauffeur, when she wasn’t enjoying walks along the Napanee River or gardening. Jean was delighted with the arrival of her grandchildren and great grandson.

Just as her mother once encouraged her, Jean was a strong advocate of the importance of travel and adventure as a means of education for both her children and grandchildren.

Anderson Charters was Jean’s acquaintance.

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Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go to tgam.ca/livesguide