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Louis Morris | 1920-2009

Louis Morris, founder of scrap metal business, dies at 89

DAVIS ISLANDS — He had been a scrappy kid, who ran away from home in New Orleans and found his way to Tampa, by himself, when he was just 10 years old.

So perhaps it was fitting that Louis Morris made his career in scrap metal. Although he dropped out of school after the 11th grade, he founded Florida Iron and Metal Co. and built it into one of the most successful scrap metal companies in the area.

Mr. Morris died Nov. 3 after a long illness. He was 89.

He was born in Atlanta and was living in Gainesville when he died. He and his wife moved there a few years ago to be near their son Stan. But Mr. Morris spent almost his entire life in Tampa.

When he was 9 years old, his mother died of an unknown disease, and his father developed a respiratory condition and moved out West for treatment. Young Louis Morris was sent to Tampa to live with an aunt and uncle.

"All he had was the clothes on his back, and a shoe box with some belongings," his son said. "People in those days were very afraid of communicable diseases, and no one knew what his mother had died of, so they burned his clothes."

His relatives bought him one set of clothes, and that was all he wore every day.

Mr. Morris was a rebellious young man and turned out to be more than his aunt and uncle could handle. They sent him to live with other relatives in New Orleans.

New Orleans was not to his liking. So, while he was still just 10, he somehow got onto a train and came back to Tampa. He showed up at the doorstep of his aunt and uncle.

He was still kind of a wild child until Rabbi Adolph Burger of Congregation Rodeph Sholom befriended him. They became lifelong friends.

"My father always credited Rabbi Burger with turning his life around," Stan Morris said.

His uncle owned a scrap metal business yard, and Mr. Morris started working there when he was in elementary school. He learned every aspect of the business, from building metal to operating a crane to negotiating contracts.

Later, he would start his own scrap business and compete with his uncle's company.

"They'd go after the same contracts, from utilities and other big companies, and my father would always get them," Stan Morris said. "He was a very fair man, and I think there was just a level of trust that people had in him."

He developed a simple system so his customers always knew they were getting a fair price for their scrap metal, his son said. Mr. Morris also had a reputation for treating employees with uncommon respect.

Even in the 1950s and '60s, he hired women and people with handicaps. No one else in the business did that.

"He'd just say, 'I'll give you a chance. If you can do the work, I'll keep you on. And if you can't, I'll fire you,' " his son said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Morris married a college student named Doris. Rabbi Burger traveled to New Jersey to perform the ceremony. The Morrises, along with their son and daughter, settled on Davis Islands, where they lived for more than 50 years.

Mr. Morris retired in 1983. He devoted much of the next quarter-century to Congregation Rodeph Sholom, using his business and social connections to help any way he could. Everyone at the synagogue called him "Uncle Lou." He was named honorary president for life, and his name still appears on the synagogue's sign on Bayshore Boulevard.

"Those were the three pillars of his life," his son said. "His business, his devotion to my mother and the synagogue."

Besides his son and his wife, Mr. Morris is survived by his daughter Peggy Higgs, four grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Louis Morris, founder of scrap metal business, dies at 89 11/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2009 3:31am]
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