December 1, 2023

Townie Icon Millie Morris Passes

A community in mourning


Mildred “Millie” Morris, 88, passed away at 5:15 on the morning of August 2, 2023. Millie, a proud 1952 EPHS graduate, was known to just about every citizen in East Providence, RI. “I think we’re cousins,” she would often chuckle when greeting someone. In many cases she was. Brought up in a family entrenched in politics, public service and government, Morris, herself, was elected to public office. She was elected to the East Providence School Committee in 1996 and served for 12 years. During that tenure Morris was named as committee clerk, vice-chairperson and board chairperson by her fellow committee members. She remains today as one of the highest vote getters ever in East Providence.

Since retiring from elected office, she has remained an active community volunteer in many endeavors. These activities include but were not limited to the Crescent Park Carousel Commission, the Friends of Townies Athletic Organization, the EP High School Hall of Fame Committee, of which she is also an inductee, the East Providence Juvenile Hearing Board and many other charitable efforts. As a member of the Friends of Townie Athletics Organization (FOTA), Millie actively helped to raise funds and provide East Providence student-athletes with awards, equipment, banquets and other things not necessarily provided within limited school budgets. She insisted on East Providence students receiving the best possible in academic and athletic supplies. Recently Morris was voted by the public as one of a few citizens to have her portrait hang in City Hall.

Morris was also active in the city and state Democratic party, although with a fierce independent flair. She did not hold back from speaking her mind and was one of the first women to become a political force in East Providence. Much of this stemmed from her Dad, Manuel Sousa, who was a prominent figure in East Providence government and from her uncle, John Lewis. Lewis became the key administrative aide to former Senator Claiborne Pell. When visiting East Providence, Pell would always seek out Millie Morris for conversation and advice. In 2015 Morris was honored by state and local elected officials. Senators and Representatives from Washington joined all state and local officials in honoring Morris at a gathering, for her many years of service to the community.

Before entering elected office, Millie Morris worked for 32 years as a school secretary. She worked at the former Central Junior High and then East Providence High School. Many students (including this writer) would joke that Morris would keep an eye on them, telling students that “I know your parents, you better not be late for class and you better come to school every day!” Indeed, Morris seemed to know everyone in East Providence. A walking history book of knowledge.

Upon retiring from her secretarial position, Morris was urged by many of her friends to run for a position on the School Committee. It was a time of turmoil for the school department and Morris was instrumental in helping to right the atmosphere for schools. She won a decisive victory in her first campaign and never looked back.

While Millie Morris could discuss politics with the best of politicians, this would pale with her true love. Nothing meant more to her than her daughters Lianne, Paula and Pamela. She treated her sons-in-law, Bill and Jeff like her own sons, and she would move the earth for grandchildren Ryan, Neil, Alec, Kayla, Matthew and Jason. Her modest home was dotted with family pictures and mementos. Millie would always have that grandparent sparkle in her eyes when telling friends about their accomplishments in life.

Morris worked hard for everything she had. She raised three daughters on a school secretary’s salary and lived on a modest retirement income. However, she always looked elegant in dress and appearance when attending events or just mere shopping, etc. She was called the “energizer bunny” by many, for her relentless schedule. She would attend two or three meetings a day at times and keep on going when much younger people would call it a night. She never stopped.

Just two weeks ago, Morris organized a gathering of East Providence School retirees which was attended by many colleagues. Although not feeling well, she made it a point to attend and greet everyone.

This would sadly end during the past few months. As Morris would feel the effects of poor health closing in on her, she would not be able to attend some functions. An active member of the FOTA, she planned on attending the EPHS championship baseball banquet in July. “We raised money to help with the awards and dinner and I’d love to be there,” she told friends. “I’ve also known the Townie baseball coach since he was born, and I want to be there for him.” Minutes before the banquet would start, she would call Townie AD Alex Butler to say she couldn’t make it. A sign to close friends that Millie was nearing the end. “I feel badly,” said head coach Bobby Rodericks. “She has always been there. She sent me a nice card because she couldn’t make the dinner.”

Among her closest friends were former Superintendent of Schools Manuel Vinhateiro and Stephanie Vinhateiro. The Vinhateiros may have been the last non-family members to say goodbye to Morris, visiting her at hospice hours before her passing. “East Providence has lost a wonderful lady today. Millie Morris was a dear friend/extended family member and a remarkable woman.

In her lifetime she touched the lives of countless students, friends, neighbors, classmates and constituents. As a devoted mother, sister, daughter, friend and lifelong Townie, Millie tireless made her hometown, of which she was extraordinarily proud, a better place to live, grow and play.

As a personal friend of over 70 years, it will be difficult to imagine any family, high school or city events without her presence or involvement. Her daily phone calls, her smile, and her wisdom will be missed,” write Manny & Stephanie Vinhateiro.

As word moved around the community on August 1st that Millie may be gravely ill, former colleagues and friends called each other and languished at the thought of Millie Morris leaving this planet. Could the energizer bunny have finally run out of time. Townies and non-Townies shared stories of how Millie had touched their lives. Everyone had a similar sentiment: East Providence won’t be the same without Millie.

On a personal note, I am compelled to comment. I could write volumes about my surrogate Mom but let me just say this briefly: Millie Morris has been in my life since my Junior High days. She has been a close family friend, more like family. Millie has comforted me during the passing of my parents, brother and others. She came to my home a few years ago immediately after my wife Diane was hospitalized, to provide comfort again. My two adult children have known her their entire lives and can’t imagine EP without her. “I was hoping for one more hug,” was one of Becky’s thoughts and Bobby said, “Damn, we will miss her.”

Much more will be said by the community in the coming days. But for now, on the day that East Providence lost Millie Morris, I’m sure we were all hoping for “one more hug.”

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