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Too soon gone, they still live in our hearts

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© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001

Journalism, for all that we carp about it, is a great career. With any luck and the right management, and I have almost always had both, it gives you a life of a lot of pluses and very few minuses.

And the biggest of minuses comes late in your career when you find yourself writing too many obituaries of your friends and other good people it has been your privilege to know.

Tom Todd and Adam Morris are two such people. Morris, 23, was a recent college graduate on his way to do great things in the world when he drowned accidentally in November. Todd, 54, was a former Dade City police chief and college professor (not a pair of occupations you will often hear mentioned in tandem) who was working as chief of security at a swank resort in Key Largo when he died of cancer last week.

It is the basic goodness of both men, more than the chronological propinquity of their deaths, that brings them together on this page.

I knew Adam primarily as the polite, cheerful kid who worked in his parents' gourmet coffee shop on wheels that is a fixture at many outdoor concerts and events in this area.

A standout high school wrestler and track star, Adam had attended a three-week Outward Bound Camp the summer before his senior year at King High School in Tampa.

In January of last year, he wrote:

"I have climbed mountains, wrestled opponents, left home for college and graduated. I have learned many things in my short lifetime and I want to learn many more. I do not know exactly what I want to be. I do know that I want to be a leader, teacher and helper to others. My eyes will be open and my mind will finally come to understand just what my heart is after."

Probably the sentence that most caught my eyes in a collection of his writings his parents, Norman and Rochelle Morris, shared with me was on the subject of tolerance: "My eyes give me a pre-conception . . . if I close them, I just might see."

It was the kind of thing that, had their paths crossed, he might have learned from Todd, who served briefly as Dade City police chief after his predecessor was fired in 1986.

Todd, a soft-spoken, thoughtful man, served as acting chief for several months and then for three months as chief before leaving to pursue a career in education.

Dade City's police department today is modern and well run with high officer morale, but things were different back then. The chief before Todd had left in a cloud of controversy after longstanding battles with the then-city manager, and the chief before that had become a fugitive on charges of stealing guns from the city and selling them.

Three years after Todd left, a high ranking police official was charged with having sex with minors and trying to hire another officer to kill a third officer.

And even Todd's brief tenure was broken with controversy when he used fire hoses, set to spray only a mist, to break up a disturbance among a crowd of mostly black youths.

"I swear I didn't know," he told me almost tearfully, explaining that he was just a couple of years too young to remember Selma and the horrible image of fire hoses being used in racial disturbances.

And all of his other actions as chief proved that to be the case.

When his predecessor, Bernie Enlow was fired, I had infuriated most of the Dade City establishment by writing that the city wasn't ready for a police chief named Bernie, and would probably be happier with one named Bubba. Not long after that Todd showed up an event with a shirt saying, "I'm not Bubba," and his wife, Nancy, was given one by co-workers reading "I'm Not Bubbette."

And they weren't. Both are remembered for their kindness and decency.

There is no monument big enough to signify who Todd was and what Morris might have become. Todd's family asked for contributions to the American Cancer Society and Morris' parents have established the Adam Morris Scholarship Fund at Outward Bound USA, 100 Mystery Point Road, Garrison, N.Y., 10524.

I commend those memorials, and the men they represent, to your attention.

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