Ann Morris

Written by Teresa Dennard.

She's good at what she does!

Ann Wright was the oldest of ten children--eight girls and two boys. Her mother was only 14 when she married her daddy and had all ten children by the time she was 28. They lived back and forth between Houston and Carthage, depending on where her daddy had work. She married Jerry Morris in high school between her junior and senior years. He grew up in the Buncombe community. She was the “city girl,” he was the “country boy.” They lived with Jerry’s parents the first couple months. “I felt like I had moved to a foreign country, and I was only ten miles from home. I didn’t know people still killed chickens. I thought that had gone out with the covered wagons. My mother bought everything from the grocery store, and I never gave a second thought to how those chickens got there.”

Even though Ann was married, she had every intention of graduating from high school. She found out she was pregnant and had an extreme case of morning sickness. “Those were the dark ages when they thought you shouldn’t be in school if you were married, and you really shouldn’t be if you were pregnant, married or not. Lou Tatum, school nurse at the time, very politely told me that I would have to leave school.” Determined to graduate, Ann took correspondence courses. After baby Joe was born, the couple moved to Chapel Hill where Jerry worked evenings in Tyler. Ann got permission from Chapel Hill school to take the classes she needed to graduate. “I’d leave for my 8:00 class with Joe and Jerry sitting in a chair watching Captain Kangaroo. Education was important to both of us. Jerry wanted me to finish and he’s the reason I went to college.”

After second son, Bill, was born, the couple moved back to Carthage. Third son, Wayne was born and Jerry asked Ann if she’d like to go to college and be a teacher. She told him to be careful what he was asking, because once she started, she wouldn’t stop. “At that time in Carthage, if you were a female, you were a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. There weren’t a lot of options.” She started Panola intending to be an elementary teacher, but had an opportunity to visit Joe’s first grade class one day and began to have doubts. When she walked out of the building, she said aloud, “Dear Jesus, if you let me live long enough to drive back to Panola College, I promise I will never teach little kids!” She went directly to the college and changed her major to secondary education. “Being an elementary teacher is a gift and I knew it would be a pitiful thing to inflict me on 25 babies. I admire those that can do that, but it wasn’t for me.”

Ann fell in love with history while at Panola. She had Bill O’Neal as a teacher. “That’s when I realized history wasn’t boring. It’s about people--who they are and what they do. Dates and documents are just woven into that. I knew that’s what I wanted to teach.” After 12 years in the classroom at Carthage High School, an opportunity opened at Panola College. For the next 9 years Ann taught history and political science alongside Keith Scott and Bill O’Neal. As technology became more and more available, Ann found her niche. “Technology fascinated me. Why have students read part of John Kennedy’s speech at the Berlin Wall when I could take them to the computer lab and actually see him present it at the Berlin Wall?” As soon as Panola taught the faculty to create web pages, Ann signed up for the first class. “I loved it. To me that was magic—put in some code, some words, some funny looking symbols and create a page that could be accessed anywhere in the world.”

By 1999 Ann was named Director of Distance Learning. The College went from a handful of online courses and a few students to over 200 courses and thousands of students. “I credit Charles Hughes for having the wisdom and foresight to know what needed to be done to make the program successful. Panola College led the way in online education in East Texas. In the early days of distance education, we trained professors from colleges and universities to do what we were already doing successfully.” Ann was busy at Panola. She was the college webmaster, worked on grants that advanced technology, made dozens of presentations, served on several state and local advisory boards, helped organize workshops and conferences. She was good at what she did and was highly respected.

In 2010, Ann slowed down long enough to have a hysterectomy. Surgeons found a tumor in her right fallopian tube. It was stage 2 cancer. She lost her hair. “Jerry took it much harder than I did. I can honestly say being bald felt good. My hair came back very curly and one of my boys called me a poodle! Nothing would have been possible without the continued support of my husband, who has been retired for several years now. He has taken up cooking and is nearly famous for his chocolate pies made with homemade crust. We’ve been together 47 years and counting. He’s a keeper and my rock. We are a very close-knit family. There’s no better sound than those boys sitting on the back porch laughing. Everything is right with the world…they’re good men.” With over 30 years in education, it was time to retire. Ann says, “It’s been a ride and I loved it, but people say when it’s time to go, you’ll know it. I wanted more free time for other things, but found out I just couldn’t quit working cold turkey. I was bored stiff!” She works part-time for First State Bank and Hawthorn Funeral Home managing their websites as well as other duties. “God’s been good, and that’s what it all boils down to.”