June 18, 2024

Townie Icon Millie Morris Passes

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Mildred “Millie” Morris, 88, passed away on August 2, 2023.  Morris, a proud 1952 EPHS graduate, was known to thousands 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 had remained an active community volunteer in many endeavors. These activities included 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), Morris 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 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.

Just two weeks before her passing, Morris had 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.  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.  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.  It will be difficult to imagine any family, high school or city events without her presence or involvement. Her smile, and her wisdom will be missed,” said Manny & Stephanie Vinhateiro.

Since her passing, Townies and non-Townies have shared stories of how Millie had touched their lives. Everyone had a similar sentiment: East Providence won’t be the same without Millie Morris.

She is survived by her daughters Lianne Bartlett, Paula Totten (Bill) and Pamela Santos (Jeff). She adored her grandchildren Ryan, Neil, Alec, Kayla, Matthew and Jason.

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