Robert J. Morris Is Dead at 82; Crusader Against Communists

from the New York Time Obituaries on Thursday, January 2, 1997
by Constance L. Hays

Robert J. Morris, whose ministrations as counsel for a Cold War Senate subcommittee bent on rooting out Communists marked a long career devoted to conservative causes, died on Sunday at Point Pleasant Hospital in Point Pleasant, N.J. He was 82 and lived in Mantoloking, N.J.

The cause of death was congestive heart failure, said his son Geoffrey, who added that Mr. Morris had been suffering for more than a year from hydrocephalus, a condition that impedes brain function.

Mr. Morris was chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Internal Security from 1951 to 1953, and again from 1956 to 1958, a period when the country was tormented by the specter of Communist infiltration at every level of life.

A graduate of Fordham Law School, he had served on a New York State Assembly committee in 1940 that investigated New York's schools and colleges for Communist activities. He worked various aspects of the Senate hearings, appearing as a witness now and then and serving as a frequent spokesman and defender of its work.

The Internal Security subcommittee was described in 1951 in The New York Times as one that "far over reaches the House Committee on Un-American Activities, as it far out reaches Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin. The mandate from the Senate is for practical purposes, limitless in the whole field of security. The subcommittee may inquire generally into suspected subversion, in or out of the Government."

As a result, the hearings corralled diplomats, scholars, businessmen, refugees and schoolteachers. It opened investigations into a possible Communist takeover of Hawaii, Communist influence along the New York City waterfront, shipments of propaganda detected in New Orleans and creeping Communist control of American military industries.

Perhaps the subcommittee's darkest moment came in April 1957, when E. Herbert Norman, the Canadian Ambassador to Egypt, committed suicide after learning that the subcommittee was reopening a 1951 investigation that centered on his purported membership in a 1938 Communist study group in Provincetown, Mass. Mr. Norman had been cleared of the charges in 1951, and Canadians angrily attributed his death to a "smear campaign" by the subcommittee.

Mr. Morris, who had made the announcement a month earlier that reports showed that Mr. Norman "is a Communist," insisted that there was plenty of material to support the investigation.

In the opinion of another legendary figure from that era, Mr. Morris may have been more McCarthyesque than the Senator himself. In a letter to William F. Buckley Jr. published in "Odyssey of a Friend," a collection published in 1969, Whittaker Chambers, the self-reported Russian spy who implicated Alger Hiss, said:

"The Senator in my opinion did the right more mischief than he ever did the left, and he keeps right on doing it. It does no good to plead that the left was mean to him. I would say that Bob Morris really accomplished much of what the Senator is credited with."

Mr. Morris's interest in politics was part and parcel of his upbringing in Jersey City, where his father was known for organizing opposition to Frank Hague, the entrenched Hudson County boss. That interest sharpened while Mr. Morris served in the Navy during World War II.

Turned down at first because of his inability to recognize the color red ,an anecdote he repeated with delight through the years, he became a commander of counterintelligence and psychological warfare. At one point, his son said, he was in charge of writing the threats, printed in Japanese on what looked like money, that were dropped by the planeload on Japanese cities.

He also interrogated prisoners, and began believing that Communism was a greater threat to world security than most leaders realized--an opinion that would influence the rest of his life.

Politics continued to attract him after he left the subcommittee. In 1958, he made a bid for the Republican Senate nomination from New Jersey, running on a conservative platform that stressed his subcommittee work. Like all but one of his attempts to win public office--he was elected a municipal judge in New York City in 1954, and resigned two years later to rejoin the Senate investigations--it was unsuccessful.

Turning his eye to education, Mr. Morris moved to Texas in 1960 to become president of the University of Dallas. He continued speaking out against Communism and on other issues, which became a source of friction at the university, which he left in 1962.

That summer, he founded the Defenders of American Liberties, a group he described as modeled after the American Civil Liberties Union, "but with emphasis on different positions." The group quickly gained public attention with its defense of former Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, who was accused of inciting unrest at the University of Mississippi at Oxford as James Meredith, its first black student, was attempting to start classes there.

In 1964, he founded the University of Plano, now defunct, in Plano, Tex., which was intended to teach mildly disabled young people through "patterning," controversial at the time. It involved putting students through a series of physical exercises, including crawling and creeping, to stimulate nonphysical development in the brain.

Mr. Morris was prompted to do so by the difficulties of one of his children, William, whom he enrolled in the university. He remained at the university until 1977, and it closed a short time later.

He continued to be a vocal foe of Communism and to speak against disarmament. While in Texas, he made two runs at the Senate, in 1962 and 1970, positioning himself as a conservative Republican. Both times he was defeated in the primary by George Bush.

He was the author of five boooks, all but one dealing with the prospective unraveling of the world order. One, "Disarmament: Weapon of Conquest," became something of a best seller after it appeared in 1963.

He also wrote a column, "Around the World," which was published from 1960 to the early 1980's in newsapers, among them The Manchester(N.H.) Union Leader and The New York Tribune. Among his interests were the politics of Africa, and he became a chairman of the African Zimbabwean Association.

In 1984, he made one last bid for the New Jersey Senate nomination, campaigning on the same platform as President Ronald Reagan but losing nonetheless. Until last year, his son said, he remained active, writing and giving lectures to groups in the New York area.

He is survived by his wife, Byles Morris; a daughter, Joan M. Barry of Jackson, N.J.; six sons Robert J. Jr. of Kauai, Hawaii, Paul E., of Montclair, N.J., Roger W., of Mantoloking, William E., of Mantoloking, John Henry 2d, of Bay Head, N.J., and Geoffrey J., of Armonk, N.Y.; two sisters, Alice Gougeon of Stone Harbor, N.J., and Kathleen Reinert of Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., and 12 grandchildren.


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