December 29, 2018
Jim Morrissey, former newspaperman, author, business entrepreneur, philanthropist and sportsman died on December 29, 2018, of natural causes. With a twinkle in his eye and the gift of gab, he lived a full 95 years worth of laughs, fun, compassion and love.
James Francis Morrissey was born in a blizzard in the small town of Grafton, Nebraska to parents John and Faye Morrissey. Athletics were his passion and in his senior year his small high school basketball team (“Five guys who played and three subs who couldn’t”) won the Nebraska State High School Tournament. After graduating, Jim played basketball, football and baseball for Hebron College. Following the Pearl Harbor attack in December 7, 1941, Jim volunteered for the Army and served four and a half years in the Army Air Corps. Stationed in Italy from 1944-45, he flew in 51 combat missions as a top turret machine gunner in B24 bombers and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the European Campaign Medal with 4 stars and the FDR Distinguished Presidential Unit Citation.
When the war ended, he enrolled and graduated from the University of Missouri, receiving his Bachelor of Journalism in 1949 and married Betty Sapp, a Columbia resident. Hired as a reporter for the Springfield (Missouri) Leader & Press in 1949, four years later he relocated to Louisville, to work on the Louisville Times. In 1960, he became a feature writer for the Courier-Journal & Times Sunday Magazine, interviewing luminaries such as: Harry Truman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Vince Lombardi, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Thomas Merton and many hundreds more. While writing a story on the USO, he interviewed his soon-to-be second wife Kay, and they have been inseparable ever since. “Truly, Kay is the love of my life.”
In 1967, he and his wife, Kay, opened the original Kentucky and Southern Indiana franchise of Weight Watchers that soon blossomed into one of the most successful franchises in the country. In 1979 they purchased and renovated the old Courier-Journal-WHAS building at Third & Liberty, which was then placed on National Register of Historic places. In 1986, Mayor Jerry Abramson selected Jim to become the downtown chairman of the first Operation Brightside program, Louisville’s successful beautification movement.
An avid baseball fan, he was one of eight Louisvillians who bought the Louisville Redbirds in 1986. Under their leadership, the team won the American Association Championship in 1995. In 1999, they moved to Louisville Slugger Field on Main Street and were renamed the Louisville RiverBats. In June 2000, Jim honored his dear friend, baseball Hall of Famer Pee Wee Reese, by commissioning a statue prominently featured in front of the stadium. The RiverBats then won the League championship in 2001.
A passionate golfer (“Where elation and frustration play together”), he was one of the original members of Valhalla Golf Course in 1986 and was also a member of Standard Country Club, where he consistently shot his age throughout his 80s.
Jim served 10 years on the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame board, was a board member and chairman at Father Maloney’s Boys Haven, and participated as board member and fundraising chairman for Brookhaven Treatment Center for teenage alcoholics and drug users.
Philanthropy has been invaluable to Jim’s career. The Morrissey Foundation was formed to guide Jim and Kay’s charitable giving. They were major donators to the Home of the Innocents, and the Home’s board named the “Kay and Jim Morrissey Aquatic Therapy Center” on Main Street in their honor. In November 2009, Jim commissioned a statue of Alice Lloyd to be placed in the center of Alice Lloyd College in Pippa Passes located in Eastern Kentucky.
Jim’s love of his Irish heritage, storytelling and warm and generous friendship have been the staples of his marvelous life. He leaves behind a record of remarkable success, service and a bevy of friends.
Jim is survived by his wife of 49 years, Kay; From his former marriage, son Paddy (Lisa) of Berkeley, CA, daughters Cathy (John Hassebrock) of Colorado Springs, CO, Sharon (Don Baierl) and Shannon (John Fox) both from St. Paul, MN, as well as six grandchildren: Caitlin, Molly Rose, Calla, Keenan, Clare Baierl and Daisy Baierl.
A celebration wake of Jim’s life will be celebrated Friday, March 1, 2019 in the Willow Room at 1400 Willow Avenue, Louisville. Jim’s family would like to thank the incredible staff of Carmelita’s Quality Care, and most especially Carmelita Clay herself, for their wonderful and compassionate care for our Dad and “Poppa.” In lieu of flowers, we request that donations be made to the Home of the Innocents, 1100 E Market St, Louisville (502) 596-1000.
Burial: Cave Hill Cemetery Section 37, Lot 207