STATESVILLE Their car was parked in the driveway. Their front-porch light was on. The American flag fluttered in the Thursday breeze and neighbors were feeding their three dogs - all signs that Randy and Barbara Morrison hadn't planned to stay away long.
But early Wednesday afternoon, Randy Morrison was at the wheel of his church bus, driving Barbara and 16 other senior members of Statesville's Front Street Baptist Church home from a three-day Fall Jubilee in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Near Knoxville, moving eastbound on Interstate 40, a tire blew and the bus careened across the median, clipping a westbound SUV and colliding with a tractor-trailer.
The Morrisons, both 66, who would have celebrated another wedding anniversary in November, were two of the six who died.
By all accounts, they were "shirts-off-their-back" people.
Each week, Randy, retired from a trucking company, mowed the yards of about 20 elderly church members and didn't ask for a dime, son Daniel Morrison said. If Statesville Christian School needed a substitute bus driver, they'd call on Randy or Barbara, a retired public school teacher.
And when Daniel's wife, Monica, suddenly died of an aneurysm in December, his parents spent much of their time looking after their son's two young children so Daniel could work.
"They didn't care about nice cars or fancy homes," Daniel said. "They never did anything for themselves. They gave their time and money to their grandchildren and their church ... I'm still trying to process it all. I know the Lord has a reason for everything, but I don't know what it is yet."
Randy grew up in Statesville, his son said, and Barbara in Washington state. They met when Randy was in the Army and was visiting an Army buddy in Barbara's hometown.
"It didn't take long for them to get married," Daniel said. "They were young - and in love."
They raised five children in a small frame house across Broom Street from Front Street Baptist.
Randy worked for years for a Statesville trucking firm; Barbara initially drove a school bus for the public schools, then became a teacher at Mt. Mourne School near Mooresville, then N.B. Mills Elementary in Statesville.
When their working years and child-raising days were over, they doted on grandchildren. And they gave much of their energy to their church. They rarely missed a service, dressing in their best clothes and walking across the street, usually hand in hand, to the church where Barbara sang in the choir and Randy was a deacon.
Their loss shook those who knew them.
Neighbors Velma Sherill, 73, and son Kenneth Snead, 54, were looking after the Morrisons' three dogs - blue heelers Scuffy and Duke and white poodle Lucky - while they were gone.
They'd known the Morrisons since Sherill moved next-door in 1979.
"It's like losing members of the family," said Sherill, who added the Morrisons looked forward each year to attending the Jubilee. "That's the way I felt about them. They were truly two good people, always helping everybody."
Snead helped Randy Morrison mow grass of church members and look after the bus that was always parked in a garage across their street. Before their group, the Young at Heart Seniors, left for their yearly trip to Tennessee, Snead washed the windows and cleaned the inside.
He expected to repeat the chores once the bus returned on Wednesday.
"When I saw the story of the wreck on TV, I just had this gut feeling that they might not be coming back," Snead said.
"You plan on going on a trip, and you might make it and you might not," his mother said. "You never can tell when your time comes."
For Daniel Morrison, "the baby" of five children, the time came for his parents and wife much too soon.
He's suffered immense loss.
"We're going to be all right," he said. "With the help of friends and the church we'll make it."
Published in Charlotte Observer on Oct. 4, 2013