Having a father who was actively engaged in social work and a paternal grandmother who firmly embraced Garveyism inspired Hugh Morris to make teaching and volunteering lifelong pursuits.
After decades of selfless service, he was rewarded with Jamaica’s sixth highest national honour, the Order of Distinction in the rank of Officer.
A total of 138 individuals made this year’s honours list announced on Jamaica’s Independence Day on August 6. The Jamaican flag was first raised 51 years ago, signifying the birth of the nation.
“This (honour) came as a big surprise,” said Morris, who is a Justice of the Peace in Jamaica and trained restorative and community justice practitioner. “I followed the footsteps of my dad and grandma who relished assisting people and doing whatever they could to enhance other people’s lives. That was easy for me and I am humbled to be recognized for something I relish doing.”
Born and raised in Kingston, Morris attended St. Aloysius Primary and Kingston Technical High where he studied electrical engineering before enrolling in the 178-year-old Mico University College, the oldest teacher training institution in the Western Hemisphere. After graduating, he taught for four years at Ardenne High School prior to migrating to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in 1970.
Morris, who captained Mico’s track and field team and was a member of Striders Track Club, spent nine years with Bell Canada, rising to the rank of assistant manager in the technical department and another three years as an end-user trainer with an American technology firm in the city before returning to teaching full-time.
“It’s something that I always wanted to get back into,” said Morris, who taught English as a Second Language and completed an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and graduate research in special education at York University.
He retired from the Toronto District School Board in 2002 as vice-principal at Charles Best Middle School and returned to Jamaica to work as general manager of Tools for Development, an organization which provided Jamaicans in the garment and metal and wood work sectors with tools at cost-effective prices. He filled that position for three years before assuming the role of national co-ordinator of the Jamaica Governor General Awards Program.
With two children and four grandchildren in the GTA, Morris and his wife of 43 years, Perline, make about three trips here annually.
“Toronto is still close to our hearts and it’s the place where I made a lot of connections and did extensive community work,” said Morris.
The active Rotarian sat on the Toronto Mayor’s Community & Race Relations Committee and served as Black Business and Professional Association secretary, executive secretary and first vice-president of the Jamaican Canadian Association, secretary and first vice-president of MICO Alumni Canada chapter and director of the UNICEF Ontario director of development and education. He was also the founding secretary of the province’s Multicultural Association of Educators and the Jamaica School-A-Child Project founder and president.
Morris, a Jamaica National Building Society overseas director, was one of three Jamaican-Canadians to be awarded the Order of Distinction. The honours were bestowed on former Toronto Star reporter, Philip Mascoll and volunteer, Lloyd Seivright.
“I am humbled and still in awe,” said Mascoll who spent 27 years with the Toronto newspaper. “This is a big deal for someone like me who was brought up in a family with a rich tradition of service.”
Mascoll spent four years with Wimbledon News in the United Kingdom before heading back to Jamaica in 1971 to work with Alcoa as the communications co-ordinator and community affairs liaison.
A former president of the Jamaica Diaspora Canada Foundation, Mascoll is an active member of the People’s National Party, Black Action Defence Committee and Jamaica College Old Boys Association of Canada.
Seivright, who was employed as an assistant distiller at Innswood Estate in Jamaica before coming to Canada in 1969, has raised thousands of dollars for scholarships – the majority awarded to third-year University of the West Indies medical students – through the Independent United Order of Solomon Pride of Toronto #12 Lodge that he founded in 1978.
The Lodge has also distributed over $500,000 worth of medical supplies and wheelchairs across Canada and the rest of the world and organized an annual children’s Christmas party over the past 32 years.
“I love doing what I do to make people’s lives better and I cherish the support I have received from many people over the years to make these events successful,” said Seivright, who is the recipient of the Order of Ontario and the UWI Toronto Gala vice-chancellor award.
He spent two decades with Canada Malting Company and 15 years with beverage manufacturer, COTT, before retiring six years ago.
Canadian Justice of the Peace, Sam Billich, was recognized for his contributions to the Jamaican Diaspora in Canada and his community service with the Badge of Honour for Meritorious Service.
“This is the best birthday gift I have ever received,” said Billich, who was born in Jamaica on August 8. “I am still on cloud nine.”
Billich’s mother, who is Jamaican, and German father met in England where she was studying nursing. The family migrated from Jamaica to Canada in 1961.
A Canadian Forces reservist and member of the Veterans’ Memorial Advisory Committee, Billich sponsored Jamaican military officers enrolled in the Canadian Forces College and played a lead role in the Jamaica Military Band’s visit to Canada last year.
Billich, who served in England, Northern Ireland and Germany, is a Jamaica Ex-Soldiers Association of Canada trustee.
By RON FANFAIR