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    Ex-clerk of House dies at age 92

    Allen Morris was known as a House problem solver, arbiter of rules and as an adviser to members.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 23, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Allen Morris, clerk of the state House of Representatives for 20 years and creator of the Florida Handbook, the bible of state government, died Monday (April 22, 2002). He was 92 years old and lived in Tallahassee.

    A distinguished newspaper reporter, historian and political columnist, he was honored by the House in November 1993 for a lifetime of public service.

    His wife, Joan, said he died about 7:15 a.m. at Westminster Oaks, a nursing home where he has lived for several years. Graveside services will be at Roselawn Cemetery at 10 a.m. Thursday.

    The family will receive visitors from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Culley's Mea-dowwood Funeral Home on Riggins Road in Tallahassee. The family suggests memorial contributions to the Florida State University Foundation, Allen Morris Professorship in Florida History.

    Mr. Morris was best known as a legislative historian. While serving as House clerk and for years afterward, he interviewed former legislators and carefully recorded the rich and colorful history of Florida government. And every other year he published the Florida Handbook, an agency by agency, official by official encyclopedia of state government.

    It was an outgrowth of his biennial book publishing that led to the establishment of the state's Photographic Archives. The collection, which he began in 1952, contains upward of 50,000 pictures showing how people lived in Florida over the past century. It is housed at the state Division of Archives.

    Mr. Morris bought the first archives pictures, copies of photographs taken by the armed forces and others in Florida during the Civil War. Nearly all the other pictures were donated at no cost to FSU.

    It has been said that hardly anyone but Mr. Morris could have amassed the photographic history. Few could equal his knowledge of the state's past.

    Mr. Morris was part of that historical heritage. He first went to Tallahassee in 1941 for the Miami Herald as the first resident newspaper correspondent. Subsequently, he reported 25 sessions through 1965, the year before he became clerk.

    The job of clerk combines something of publishing and something of banking, according to his own description. Two of his publications -- the House Journal and the House Calendar -- were equivalent to daily newspapers.

    He also published the Clerk's Manual, a collection of biographical data on legislators, plus primers on legislative procedures and booklets for members, staffers and committees.

    In duties akin to banking, the clerk's office safeguards hundreds of bills, tracking each through the legislative process.

    He reigned as the House problem solver, arbiter of debates over rules and procedures, and as adviser to the speaker and members.

    "Senate presidents, House speakers, governors and legislators come and go," the late state Sen. Verle Pope, D-St. Augustine, once observed, "but Allen Morris, it seems to me, has been here and always will be. What would this assemblage of lawmakers do without him?"

    On more than one occasion the Legislature wrote into the record its appreciation of Mr. Morris' work.

    A high school dropout, the Chicago native came to Florida in 1921 with his widowed father, attracted by promotions for boom-time living in Coral Gables.

    When he was 15 he answered an ad for a "bright boy" and became a copy boy at the Miami News. It was two weeks before his father learned that his son was going to work instead of to school.

    He later worked for the Associated Press, which sent him to Tallahassee for the first time. The AP job also had other benefits: Injured in a car wreck, he fell in love with and married the nurse who cared for him, Dorothy Hedley. They had two children.

    She died of cancer in 1966, the year that Mr. Morris became House clerk.

    Leaving the AP, Mr. Morris joined the Herald to cover the 1940 gubernatorial campaign and returned to Tallahassee for the 1941 legislative session. When the Herald turned down his idea of establishing a permanent bureau in the capital, Mr. Morris struck out on his own with "Cracker Politics," a political column published in 20 daily newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times.

    He later married Joan Perry of St. Petersburg, an assistant clerk at the FSU library, where Morris did research for the Florida Handbook.

    In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter, Martha Marsh, Atlanta, and a son, Dr. David A. Morris, Tallahassee; four grandchildren; and eight great grandchildren.

    -- Information from Times files was used in this report.

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