More than 400 loved ones gathered in Washington on Sunday to remember Alaska Airlines Captain Lee Morris — found dead in Burbank last week — as a fun-loving grandfather with a love for golf, the Seattle Mariners and camping on the Columbia River.
“Our really close group was devastated by this,” said John MacDonald, Morris’ longtime friend, former roommate and co-pilot. “But we also know he was a gift in our life.”
Family members, high school, college buddies and fellow pilots came in from as far as Texas, Florida, New York and Wyoming for the remembrance.
“Everybody felt like Lee was their best friend,” said Morris’ sister Karen Miller.
The 55-year-old Seattle-based pilot was found dead on a Golden State (5) Freeway off-ramp in Burbank last week. The death stunned loved ones and co-workers. A spokesman for the airlines said Morris had passed regular physical check-ups and appeared to be in good health.
Los Angeles County coroner’s officials continue to investigate the cause of death.
“He was way too young to die,” said Alaska Airlines First Officer John Allison, who described Morris as a “great pilot” who commanded a “safe, efficient ship.”
“When I’d fly with guys like that, I’d pause and think, ‘When I’m a captain, that’s how I’m going to do it,’” Allison said. “Now, I’m a captain, and it’s guys like that that I’ve learned from.”
Morris was also remembered as a family man with love for kids.
“I felt like I hit the lottery with him,” said longtime fiancée Eileen Hively, who lived with Morris for nearly 12 years. “He was really my best friend.”
Their five-year engagement was a running joke among friends, who for years nagged them to seal the deal.
“The paper didn’t mean a lot to Lee and me,” Hively said.
But they did have plans to sneak off secretly to Hawaii next month to tie the knot — and then surprise family and friends.
“We knew we were going to be together forever,” Hively said.
Morris quickly embraced Hively’s grandsons, Bryce and Brady, as his own. The couple regularly scheduled work trips around the kids’ baseball and football games.
“They soon become grandparents to all of the kids on the team,” said Miller, who lives two blocks away from Hively in Richland.
In Morris’ flight bag, Burbank police detectives discovered a stack of kids’ drawings of airplanes and stick-figure captains. He collected the drawings over the years as children would exit his flights.
“He took [the pictures] to work with him every day,” Hively said.
He’d often steer children to the cockpit to sit in the captain’s seat and try on his hat while parents snapped photos.
“He was a big kid at heart,” Hively said. “If he could make your day, he would.”
On Friday, MacDonald and Hively plan to travel to Los Angeles to bring Morris home.
“I’m so thankful I got to live in his world for 15 years,” Hively said.
-- Alene Tchekmedyian, Times Community News