William Rexford Fields Morris, a figure marked by a rich tapestry of experiences, lived a life that spanned nearly a century from August 15, 1917, to November 30, 2014. Born into an illustrious yet complex family background, Morris grew into a man who made his mark not just as the son of the late W.C. Fields, the renowned comedian and actor, but as a decorated military veteran, a devoted community servant, and a resilient individual who navigated his unique circumstances with strength and optimism.
Morris’s life story unfolded with an unexpected twist when, at the age of 12, he discovered his father to be the famed W.C. Fields. Despite growing up in foster care, his early experiences did not deter him from shaping a fulfilling life. Instead, they added to the rich narrative of his life journey, which was marked by exemplary service in World War II, a fulfilling career at Junior Achievement, and deep-rooted involvement in various community organizations.
His narrative is also one of personal resilience and an enduring spirit. With a life that mirrored the humor and complexity of his father’s on-screen characters, Morris offered a unique perspective on the intersection of fame, family, and identity. His life, marked by poignant moments and memorable encounters, left an indelible mark on those who knew him and continues to inspire long after his passing.
In this article, we will delve into the life and legacy of William Rexford Fields Morris, exploring his family background, early life, military service, career, and community involvement. We will also shed light on a fascinating sit-down interview he gave in 2012, examining public perceptions and controversies that arose from it. Join us as we remember and celebrate the life of this remarkable man.
Ancestry: Grandparents Kate Spangler and James Lydon Dukenfield
William Rexford Fields Morris’s ancestry can be traced back to his maternal grandparents, Kate Spangler and James Lydon Dukenfield. The couple’s lineage provided a strong foundation for the future generations of their family. Their lives, though not as well-documented as those of their descendants, played a crucial role in shaping the family tree that would eventually include the iconic W.C. Fields and his son, William.
Parents: W.C. Fields and Bessie Poole
William’s parents, W.C. Fields and Bessie Poole, were both prominent figures in their own right. W.C. Fields, born William Claude Dukenfield, was a highly successful comedian, actor, and juggler known for his sardonic wit and unique comedic style. His illustrious career in show business spanned over four decades, including vaudeville, silent films, and eventually, talkies. Fields’s distinctive persona and memorable performances solidified his status as a comedic legend.
Bessie Poole, on the other hand, was a woman whose life took a different trajectory. As a young woman, she found herself in a tumultuous relationship with W.C. Fields, which resulted in the birth of their son, William Rexford Fields Morris. Tragically, Bessie’s life was cut short when she died in a barroom brawl, leaving behind her young son to navigate his life without her guidance.
Relationship with Uncle: Walter Fields
Growing up in foster care, William Rexford Fields Morris did not have the opportunity to develop a deep, lasting connection with his immediate family members. However, his uncle Walter Fields, W.C. Fields’s brother, played a role in William’s life. Though their relationship was not as close as a traditional uncle-nephew bond might have been, Walter Fields’s presence in William’s life served as a link to his father’s side of the family, providing a sense of continuity and connection to his roots.
Early Life and Discovering His Parentage
Growing up in Foster Care
The journey of William Rexford Fields Morris began under unique circumstances. Following his mother’s untimely death and subsequent separation from his father, he was placed in foster care. These early years were undoubtedly filled with challenges, but they also instilled in him a strong sense of resilience and adaptability. Despite the uncertainties of his childhood, Morris managed to carve out a space for himself and fostered relationships that stood the test of time.
Discovering His Father: W.C. Fields
One of the pivotal moments in Morris’s life was the discovery of his parentage at the age of 12. The revelation that his father was the famed comedian and actor W.C. Fields came as a shock, forever altering his perception of himself and his place in the world. This unexpected link to fame and fortune was not something he sought, but it nevertheless became an integral part of his life story. The knowledge of his father’s identity undoubtedly influenced his perspective and shaped his future interactions.
Memorable Encounters with W.C. Fields
Despite the unconventional circumstances of their relationship, Morris had the opportunity to share some memorable encounters with his father, W.C. Fields. These encounters, often marked by the exchange of gifts and money, were glimpses into the world of the man who was not only a celebrity but also his biological father. Despite the emotional complexity of their relationship, these moments offered Morris a tangible connection to W.C. Fields, adding another layer to his understanding of his family background and personal identity.
Marriage and Family Life
Marriage to Roberta Mabry Morris
In 1940, as the world was on the brink of a major war, William Rexford Fields Morris found love and solace in his marriage to Roberta Mabry Morris. Their union marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life, providing a sense of stability and companionship that contrasted his tumultuous early years. Together, they weathered life’s storms, celebrated its joys, and built a family that became a vital part of Morris’s identity. Their bond stood the test of time, and despite Roberta’s passing before Morris, her memory remained a source of strength for him until his final days.
The Legacy of Daughter Donna Lee Morris
The couple’s life together was enriched by the birth of their daughter, Donna Lee Morris. As a child, she brought joy and fulfillment to her parents’ lives. Even though she preceded her father in death, her legacy lived on through the memories and stories shared by those who knew and loved her. Her life, though sadly cut short, left a lasting impact on Morris. The love he held for his daughter was a testament to his capacity for deep familial bonds, a stark contrast to the disconnection he experienced in his own early life. Donna’s memory remained a poignant part of Morris’s life story, illustrating the enduring nature of familial love.
Military Service and Career
Serving in the Army During World War II
In the midst of his early family life, Morris answered the call of duty to serve his country during one of the most critical periods in history, World War II. He joined the Army and became a part of the 36th National Guard Infantry Division. His service took him across continents, from Africa to Italy, France, and Germany, where he experienced the horrors and heroism of war firsthand. This period of his life not only instilled in him the virtues of courage, resilience, and teamwork, but it also deeply influenced his worldview and future endeavors.
Subsequent Service in the Marine Corps
After his stint in the Army, Morris continued his military journey by joining the Marine Corps. Serving for four years, he dedicated his time and efforts to this revered branch of the U.S. military, further solidifying his commitment to his country. His service in the Marines was a testament to his adaptability, tenacity, and unwavering sense of duty, qualities that would guide him in his subsequent professional pursuits.
Executive Director of Junior Achievement: Retirement in 1982
Post his military service, Morris embarked on a new career path that focused on inspiring and nurturing the younger generation. He became the Executive Director of Junior Achievement in Florida, a role that enabled him to impact countless lives through education and mentorship. His leadership helped to guide the organization in its mission to prepare young individuals to succeed in a global economy. After years of dedicated service, Morris retired in 1982, leaving behind a legacy of commitment to youth empowerment and community development. His retirement marked the end of his professional career but not his active engagement in community service and personal growth.
Community Involvement and Later Life
Membership in Various Organizations
Even after his retirement, Morris remained an active and contributing member of his community. He was involved in various organizations, including the Marine Corps League, World War II Last Man Club, American Legion, and Gaston County Veterans Council. His participation in these groups not only allowed him to maintain connections with fellow veterans but also to continue his service to the community and the nation he had devoted much of his life to.
Volunteering at Gaston Memorial Hospital
Morris’s commitment to service was further reflected in his volunteer work at Gaston Memorial Hospital. Here, he generously gave his time and effort, embodying the values of empathy, care, and dedication. His work at the hospital was a testament to his enduring commitment to help others, adding another chapter to his lifelong narrative of service.
The Rotary Club of Gastonia
Another important facet of Morris’s community involvement was his membership in the Rotary Club of Gastonia. As a member, he actively participated in the club’s various initiatives and events, contributing to their mission of fostering unity and facilitating positive change. His involvement in the Rotary Club highlighted his belief in community engagement and social responsibility.
Final Years and Long-Term Care
As Morris advanced in years, his active involvement in community service began to slow down. He moved into long-term care about a year before his passing, signaling a quieter phase of his life. Despite the physical constraints of age, his spirit remained undimmed. His optimism, friendly nature, and ever-present smile continued to touch the lives of those around him, painting a picture of a man who, despite the trials he had encountered, remained a beacon of positivity and resilience until the end.
The Final Farewell: Interment at Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery
William Rexford Fields Morris bid his final farewell to the world on November 30, 2014. His interment took place at the Western Carolina State Veterans Cemetery in Black Mountain, a site dedicated to those who had served their country with honor and courage. The choice of his final resting place was a testament to his commitment to his military service, a significant part of his life’s journey.
The funeral service was overseen by McLean Funeral Directors of Gastonia, ensuring a dignified farewell for a man who had lived a full and meaningful life. His family, friends, and the many lives he touched gathered to pay their respects, remember his contributions, and celebrate the man he was. The memory of his service, resilience, and enduring spirit continues to inspire and live on, etched in the hearts of those who knew him and the history of the communities he served.
Public Perception: A Sit-Down Interview with William Rexford Fields Morris
On May 24th, 2012, two years before his passing, Morris participated in a sit-down interview that provided a rare and intimate glimpse into his life. The interview not only offered the public a chance to learn more about Morris as an individual, but it also sparked a variety of reactions and discussions among viewers.
Conduct and Reception of the Interview
The interview was conducted in a friendly and enjoyable style, allowing Morris to share his experiences and perspectives. However, the audio quality of the interview was not optimal, leading to some criticism from viewers. Despite this technical shortcoming, many viewers expressed appreciation for the opportunity to hear from Morris directly and thanked the interviewer for facilitating this encounter.
Viewer Response and Controversy
The interview stirred a range of emotions among viewers, from interest in Morris’s life story to sympathy for the challenges he faced. Some viewers expressed sadness, feeling that Morris didn’t receive much support from his father, W.C. Fields. Others found the interview depressing, suggesting a need for more uplifting stories of elderly individuals.
Moreover, the interview sparked some controversy regarding the interviewer’s skills and preparation. While some criticized the interviewer for not conducting more thorough background research, others defended the approach, arguing that it allowed Morris’s story to be the focus.
Heated Exchange among Commenters
The controversy escalated into a heated exchange among commenters. This intense interaction reflected the strong emotions that Morris’s life story evoked in viewers and the differing opinions about how such stories should be presented and interpreted. Despite the controversy, the interview underscored the enduring public interest in Morris’s life and the lasting impact of his story.