Zachary W. MorrisIn a school where the pressure is intense and workload oppressive, Zachary Morris “was just like a complete breath of fresh air,” remembered his friend Kathryn M. Routhier ’09.
Morris, 19, who died from an accidental fall last Thursday, was a young man whose energy and curiosity defied the limits of sleep, work, and sometimes even common sense. Born in Oklahoma but raised in Texas, he was a diehard Longhorns fan with a Lonestar State twang. He was also “a true gentleman,” said Kalvin D. Kao ’08.
He was always hatching new ideas and new adventures. You might ask him a question, and he would give you a crazy answer just plausible enough it could seem right, Routhier said.
“There were just some things — we were like, ‘Zach, you made this up,’” said Angela L. Cantu ’09.
Morris was a person lucky enough to be blessed with the ability to enjoy life, finish his work, and still wake up early in the morning ready for an adventure.
Of course, if you were good friends with Zach, that could mean you’d also be going on an early morning adventure.
“He actually banged on my door at nine in the morning to get me to go” to a Harvard vs. Princeton football game, recalled Amanda E. Baker ’08. At the game, she remembered saying how it might have been nice to go to Harvard instead of MIT, but Morris “didn’t share that opinion at all.”
“He’d always say he was ‘fixin’ to do something’” in a Texas twang, said Luke H. Harris ’08.
When Morris was fixin’ to make something happen, that often meant a party was in the works, noted Ryan L. Brunswick ’09. That, or a spontaneous pilgrimage on a “Mecca McDonald’s run” for a Big Mac early in the morning, like the one Brunswick, Morris, and a friend took in Montreal on a trip with the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
If he couldn’t convince anyone to wake up early for breakfast, or go out on an adventure, Morris wasn’t afraid of heading out on his own. One day, Routhier said, she called Morris up to go out for dinner, but he said he couldn’t come because he was at a party in Princeton. “I saw you two hours ago!” she told him, wondering how he managed to magically end up in New Jersey.
“I think he was probably MIT’s best bullrider,” said Tai C. Conley ’08, describing how Morris managed to stay on an electric bull even at the highest speed.
Michael Morris, Zach’s father, remembered him in part as an avid moviegoer, who always had to see a good movie on opening day, when it was still fresh.
Morris would often go to the movies on his own, disappearing with little notice and coming back as if nothing had happened, Routhier said.
Cantu recalled one night when she, Morris, and Routhier were returning from Quizno’s, and Morris said, “You know, there’s the basement in the Infinite,” and we should explore it. She told him that they would get lost, but he insisted that he had seen “some door that he said he was sure was an entrance to Baker” through the basement. The next night, Morris ventured out on his own in search of a secret passage to west campus, as far as we know without success.
“He never took the beaten path,” Michael Morris said. He told a story of how on one skiing trip, he said to Zach, “‘Zach, let’s stay on the trail,’ but he wouldn’t stay on the trail. He would insist on skiing through the trees.”
“Zach always did what Zach wanted to do,” he said.
An uncanny knack for friendship
Having an independent streak didn’t stop Morris from connecting with everyone around him.
“Zach’s life was all about inclusion, never exclusion,” Michael Morris said.
Harris, who is studying at MIT while Tulane University recovers from Hurricane Katrina, said that Morris “had an uncanny ability to make friends” and helped introduce him to people at MIT. “It just always seemed like he knew everybody … Everywhere we went he would know somebody,” even if it was just one person. “From the day I got here it was like that.”
“I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him,” Routhier said, and Morris would say hello to everyone. After greeting some random person in a hallway, “I’d say, ‘Zach, who was that?’ He’d say, ‘I don’t know.’”
At least a part of Morris’ magic was a constant enthusiasm for meeting new people.
Routhier and Cantu first heard from Morris because he had created a group on the Facebook for all freshmen temporarily housed on the first floor of the Baker dormitory, and he convinced them to join.
Kao first met Morris when he arrived several days early for Campus Preview Weekend, characteristically enthusiastic and raring to go. Kao was walking down the Infinite and was introduced to Morris when he stopped to say hello to a friend talking to Morris.
Baker had already heard of Morris from her fraternity friends by the time fall rolled around. She said they had described him as a tall, blond prefrosh, “pretty good looking, especially for MIT,” with a striking resemblance to the main character of Saved by the Bell. One day early in the fall, she saw this blond kid standing outside the Student Center looking confused, so she walked up to him and asked if he was Zach. She had guessed right, and she said they joked about it later on.
Humor, especially to brighten someone’s day, was a strength for Morris.
“If you were bogged down he would crack a joke” and cheer you up, Cantu said.
In his quest for a laugh, Morris also brought to bear his Texas upbringing. He would greet Cantu and Routhier with “Hey, oranges” or “Hey, little girls” with typical Texan charm.
“He would always say ‘come on y’all,’ all in one word,” Baker remembered.
Morris also had his physical gags, with a special wink-wink and raised eyebrow for Baker, or would call out “hammer time” for him and a friend to cross forearms as if in a mock struggle.
Morris “willingly accepted any challenge put before him,” and was living his dream by coming to MIT, his father said. His friends described him as curious about everything, always interested in learning about a major at MIT.
“He told me that he wanted to be in a research environment and he wanted to be around brilliant people,” his father said. Morris was interested in AIDS research, he said.
But whether Morris would have settled for just one challenge, just one company to found, just one field to study, is a question that will be left unanswered.
Morris’s father said that about 500 people attended a memorial service for Morris this weekend, traveling from many states to share their stories of him — and it is memories of Morris as a friend, leader, partyer, and avid learner that will remain.
“I will never forget Halloween night when he and I went as the Wedding Crashers,” wrote Casey L. Adkisson ’08 in an e-mail. “We both dressed in tuxes and went around introducing ourselves as Bobby O’Shea and Shamus O’Toole. Good times … He will be missed by all.”