Thomas E. Morris

Thomas E. Morris, a retired Navy rear admiral who fought in World War II and the Korean War before turning his family business into a multi-million dollar company, died Sunday of a sudden illness, his family said. He was 80.

Mr. Morris, who lived in Juno Isles, was highly decorated and held multiple commands during his career, including commander of the NATO Task group in the Mediterranean. His family said he was a two-time recipient of the Legion of Merit and received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the Navy and Coast Guard.

Active in Republican politics and the local business community, Mr. Morris was a member of Congressman Mark Foley's Veterans Advisory Committee and Congressman E. Clay Shaw's U.S. Naval Academy Interview Committee, his family said. He recently received a presidential appointment by George W. Bush to the American Battle Monument Commission.

"He comes from a generation that Tom Brokaw called the greatest generation, and he had the feeling that others came before himself," said his son, Mark Morris, 49. "He was always active in affairs of state and culture because he found those things important."

Born in Boston, Mass., in 1926, Mr. Morris was one of eight siblings, his son said. He attended good schools and was classically educated, learning to speak and read Latin. As a child he lived on the same street as his future wife, Rosamond Morris, whom he married in 1953 upon his return from the Korean War.

Mr. Morris and two of his brothers purchased the family business -- a plumbing and heating wholesale business -- from their father and turned it into a multi-million dollar enterprise before selling it, Mark Morris said.

He was also the founding director of the Navy War College Foundation and a trustee of the Coast Guard Academy Foundation. He attended Holy Cross College and Princeton and Northwestern universities as well as the Navy War College, Army War College and the National War College, his family said.

"He never set out to become a great American, but he became one just by persevering and loving this country," Mark Morris said.

Mr. Morris was predeceased by his wife. Survivors include sons Mark and Bryce, and a foster son, Ralph.

A Funeral Mass will be 9:30 a.m. Friday at St. Ignatius Loyola Cathedral, 9999 N. Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Published in The Palm Beach Post on Sept. 6, 2006