There’s an old joke about a reporter who is interviewing a man on the occasion of his 100th birthday. When asked what the secret was to living to 100, the man replies, “Well, you get to be 99, and then you’re very, very careful.”
It’s a joke shared with Francis Morrison on the occasion of her 99th birthday, and her laughter spoke to the spirit of a woman whose life has been a gift to Hope for over 68 years.
And it’s that spirit and the affection it engendered in the community that lay behind a very special birthday party held at the 293 Wallace restaurant on the evening of Nov. 11.
The restaurant was packed with well-wishers, family and a variety of people who just wanted to offer up their best birthday wishes and thank Morrison for all she has done for the community.
When Morrison first arrived in Hope as a newlywed in 1949, the town was a very different place.
She had met her husband, Robert Donald Morrison, at the Chilliwack General Hospital, where he was the resident doctor and she was interning as a dietitian.
He had already established a medical practice in Hope and the couple came to the town at a time long before the Coquihalla Highway was built, and before there was a hospital in the town.
“In those days, every doctor in Hope had to have their own ambulance so that if they had to transfer a patient to Vancouver for care, they had to drive them there,” explained Evlyn, Morrison’s daughter.
“My mother told me about one time when dad wasn’t able to make the drive, and she and Elaine Gardner (the wife of five-term mayor Bud Gardner) had to drive the so-called ambulance into Vancouver. Apparently the ambulance wasn’t really all that good and the trip was quite the adventure.”
Other recollections of a full life came to Morrison throughout the evening, including the fact that her husband’s first medical office was in the very building where the party was taking place.
“He had his offices upstairs at this office, but later built his own clinic, a clinic he operated his whole life and one that mom sold just the other year,” Evlyn said.
Other memories included some humorous and unusual anecdotes, and were shared by Evlyn.
“When she was interning in Vancouver – this was before she met my dad – she rented a room there that happened to be above the city morgue. She told me about how, in the middle of the night, she was often woken by the sound of the big doors opening and closing as another body was delivered to the space one floor below her bedroom.”
When Morison came to Hope, she was an active volunteer, working with the ladies auxiliary of the Fraser Canyon Hospital and playing the organ for the Hope United Church.
“She played the organ for more than 40 years, and she was telling me how, when she first got here, the organ was a pump organ.
“She had to learn how to play and pump the foot bellows at the same time, and she told me about how that was a real trick.”
Morrison also helped organize the annual Hope fashion show, back in the day when the town had several thriving clothing stores that would donate their latest fashions to be displayed in the show.
“She got the clothes, organized the show and emceed the event, introducing and promoting the clothes that other ladies were modelling. The money they raised for that event, as well as others, went to buy equipment for the hospital,” Evlyn said.
Morrison was honoured last year by the ladies auxiliary of the hospital for 50 years of volunteer service to the community.
“I loved the party. I had a lot of fun and I love the highland dance. I wished I could get up there and dance with them,” Morrison said of her birthday celebration.
Although she may not have danced at the party, the sparkle of her eyes, coupled with a ready smile, were enough to create a happy atmosphere of celebration for all.