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Aug 26, 2009 4:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Chester Morris, first black Westhampton Beach Village Board member, dead at 88

Aug 26, 2009 4:36 PM

Chester Morris, the only black trustee ever to serve on the Westhampton Beach Village Board, died on Saturday, August 15, at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Mr. Morris, who was appointed to the Village Board in 1999 and served until 2004, suffered a stroke, according to family members. He was 88.

Mr. Morris broke down the color barrier on multiple fronts in Suffolk County as he served as the first black postmaster in the county and the first black police officer in Quogue Village, according to family members.

“I didn’t realize he had so many firsts,” said the Reverend Christopher David of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Westhampton Beach. Mr. Morris and his late wife, Marguerite “Micki” 
Smith, attended the church for many years.

Quogue Village Police could not confirm that Mr. Morris was the department’s first black officer and Tom Gaynor, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, also said he could not validate that Mr. Morris was the first black postmaster.

Though he held many different jobs during his life—bar owner, police officer, postmaster and car salesman—Mr. Morris was perhaps best known for his generosity and desire to give back to the community he called home for most of his life.

“He loved people,” said Mr. Morris’s 46-year-old son Chester Morris II of Westhampton Beach, who described his late father as a great people person. “He wanted to give back and give others opportunities that he may not have had.”

For those reasons, said his son, he served as a member of the Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services for 20 years, from 1977 to 1997, and another 10 years, from 1973 to 1983, on the Westhampton Beach Board of Education. The World War II veteran, who received a Purple Heart after being injured twice in the line of duty, also was a volunteer with the Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance and an active member of the Rotary Club of Westhampton.

“There was a real sparkle to him,” Rev. David said. “He’ll be greatly missed by the community.”

The youngest of four children, Mr. Morris was born on May 10, 1921, in Powhatan, Virginia. His parents, Mary and Wilton Morris, relocated to Westhampton Beach when he was a child.

Mr. Morris served in the Army during World War II. He suffered a shrapnel wound to his leg while serving in Europe and, toward the end of the war, was shot in the arm during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the last major German offenses of that conflict.

After being honorably discharged from the military in 1945, Mr. Morris started his long tenure with the U.S. Postal Service and worked part time in New York City, originally hauling letters off the trucks, his son said. The position later became full time.

At around that same time, he met Marguerite “Micki” Smith, who was living in Yonkers, and opened a bar there named Chet’s Place with his friend Chester McAllister. Celebrities like Billie Holiday would often visit the bar, according to Chester Morris II. His father’s friendship with the famous 
singer eventually landed him a job 
and he was charged with keeping 
her substance abuse problem in 
check, according to the younger Mr. Morris.

“He was enlisted by people in Billie’s family to help her out,” he said.

Chester Morris and Ms. Smith married in 1959, moved to Westhampton Beach and built their home on Hazelwood Avenue that same year. Mr. Morris landed a job as letter carrier in Westhampton Beach and by the late 1960s, he was promoted to postmaster of the Quogue Post office. He later served as postmaster for Hampton Bays and stayed until his retirement in 1976.

Mr. Morris also served as a police officer for Quogue Village in the late 1960s and early 1970s, around the same time he was also the village’s postmaster.

After retiring from the postal service, Mr. Morris was employed as a car salesman at three different dealerships—Pastor Chevrolet in Westhampton, Kinney Chevrolet in Riverhead and Peter Glennon Buick Cadillac in Southampton—for the next 14 years.

Ridgie Barnett, a former West-hampton Beach Village Board member who served beside Mr. Morris, described him as a supportive colleague.

“He was positive, no matter what you did,” she said.

His son said Mr. Morris was instrumental in working on plans for the new Westhampton Beach Village Hall, which cost $5.45 million to construct and opened in 2006.

Former Westhampton Beach Village mayor and fellow World War II veteran Arma “Ham” Andon and Mr. Morris were friends and members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5350 in Quogue. Mr. Andon described Mr. Morris as a great citizen.

Playing golf, especially at the Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead, was one of Mr. Morris’s favorite hobbies, according to Chester Morris II.

“He loved it over there,” he said. “When he worked for Kinney [Chevrolet], he used to take a two-hour lunch and go out and play golf.”

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He will be missed by all that had the pleasure of knowing him.
By cush870 (31), east quogue on Aug 31, 09 12:41 PM
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