Steve Leonard Morris, a high school guidance counselor, collapsed and died Friday of a heart attack at Howard County's Long Reach High School. The Ellicott City resident was 48.
"He was the epitome of the solid guidance counselor and a very important part of our learning environment. There's not a person, either faculty or student, who did not like Steve," said Long Reach Principal Ed Evans. "He was a fatherly figure who always made you feel like you were the most important person around, that your well-being was more important than his own. He was a truly nice and loving man."
Friday night's football game against Oakland Mills High School was postponed, and over the weekend students gathered in the Long Reach parking lot, where they held a vigil.
"The mood here has been very somber. Over the weekend, the kids just wanted to be here, and on Monday, we brought in the school system's crisis-intervention team to work with the students," Mr. Evans said.
Long Reach played the postponed football game Monday evening, beating Oakland Mills, 42-23, and students held a memorial service attended by Mr. Morris' family.
"It was very tastefully done," the principal said.
A condolence banner that will be presented to Mr. Morris' family was placed in the school's atrium so that students, faculty members and friends could record their thoughts.
One student wrote: "Steve Morris was an amazing man. He did everything he could to help the students at Long Reach High School. As for me, he was always there when I needed to talk to him, and he was a spiritual inspiration. I am sure his kind soul is now resting with the Lord."
Another wrote: "Mr. Morris was the most super cool, mad, excitingly awesome counselor. I could talk to him about anything. We will always miss you."
Mr. Morris was born and raised in Bishopville, and graduated in 1974 from Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin. He earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1978 from what is now Salisbury University and a master's in guidance counseling from the Johns Hopkins University.
"In those days, growing up on the Eastern Shore, if you were an African-American you thought only of becoming a lawyer, doctor or teacher, because you knew those professions were important. And Steve just wanted to become a teacher," said his brother, Vance T. Morris of Ellicott City.
Mr. Morris began his career in 1978 at Hammond High School, where he taught history and psychology for 19 years and coached the girls basketball team.
Since 1997, he had been a guidance counselor at Long Reach.
"Steve was an outstanding teacher, counselor and friend. He was a tremendous role model for our young men and touched many lives," said Roger Plunkett, former assistant principal at Hammond and now a system administrator for the Howard County public schools.
"He worked well and connected with students, who respected, listened and admired him. He was also a man of strong faith," Mr. Plunkett said.
During students' turbulent senior year, when most face the daunting task of applying to colleges, Mr. Morris offered strong support.
"He had a sterling reputation when it came time to getting kids in college. It was the same thing he did making sure students were placed in the proper classes that gave them the opportunity of meeting their individual needs," Mr. Evans said.
A religious man, Mr. Morris had been a member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Randallstown. After moving to Ellicott City in 1994, he became an active member of Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Mr. Morris sang with the choir, was a church officer and had been assistant Sunday school superintendent. This year, he was given Mount Pisgah's Living Legend award for his contributions to the church.
"He was an avid reader of history, and especially black history," said his wife of 18 years, the former Zeleana S. McFadden, coordinator of secondary language arts for the Howard County public schools.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Celebration Church, 6080 Foreland Garth in Columbia.
Surviving, in addition to his wife and brother, are two sons, Charles J. Morris and Adam D. Morris, and two daughters, Leslie N. Morris and Rachel M. Morris, all of Ellicott City; his parents, Richard and Connie Morris of Bishopville; another brother, Richard Morris Jr. of Corning, N.Y.; a sister, Torey Predeaux of Millsboro, Del.; and many nieces and nephews.