SEATTLE – The love John and Jerene “Jerry” Morford shared as husband and wife for 66 years was also shared in their loving service to others, especially through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Those who served alongside them are remembering the couple, who died less than three weeks apart — Jerry, 86, on April 16; John, 87, on May 4.
John might have been the more visible of the two — he was a professor and dean for many years at Seattle University’s College of Education. In retirement, he and Jerry were active volunteers in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference at their parish, Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, and John served as president of the SVdP Seattle/King County Council from 2013 to 2019.
“He was a very wise man, a great teacher for me,” said Ned Delmore, who became the council’s executive director in 2011 and now serves as a senior advisor. He remembered John as a skilled leader with “a spirituality about him that was unshakable.”
While John was serious, direct and authoritative, Jerry was “the polar opposite,” Delmore said.
A calming force for her husband, Jerry also had a great sense of humor, said Delmore, who was a graduate school classmate of Jerry’s at Seattle University, where she graduated summa cum laude. “She was a delight to be around,” he said.
At Blessed Sacrament, John served as longtime director of the SVdP conference’s Sunday Dinner and Friday food bank. Those efforts meant more than 300 people had a decent meal each week and over 100 families had food in their pantries.
John was the organizer, manager and heavy lifter, but Jerry was the heart of the organization, the Morfords’ daughter, Kathleen McGinn, said in an email.
John and Jerry Morford, who were married 66 years, died less than three weeks apart. This photo was taken at their daughter’s wedding. Photo: Courtesy Kathleen McGinn
For more than a decade, “Mom carried the St. Vincent phone with her at all times, ready to listen to and find support for callers’ needs, regardless of time or setting,” McGinn said.
Together, her parents ensured that those in need received not just food, but also housing, transportation and assistance paying bills.
“Sometimes, the help that was needed most was help [Mom] could provide all on her own — she listened, joked, made each caller feel valued and loved,” McGinn said. “She held everything together.”
In 2017, Jerry gave up that consuming position and became the spiritual advisor for the Blessed Sacrament conference, according to a memorial tribute to the Morfords that the SVdP Seattle Council emailed to its members.
“With her deep belief in the Catholic faith and her devotion to prayer, Jerry truly embodied the Vincentian mission of service to our neighbors,” the tribute said. “Jerry was a model of authentic Christianity.”
During his tenure as president of the SVdP Seattle council — the umbrella organization for all parish-based SVdP groups in King County — John had plenty of ideas for enhancing the Society and how to implement them, Father Kevin Moran, a senior priest of the archdiocese and former SVdP spiritual advisor, said in an email.
“When to these is added a persuasive tongue, there was no stopping the way the Society was revolutionized during his two terms,” Father Moran added.
He said John encouraged SVdP volunteers, known as Vincentians, to engage in a personal relationship with those seeking help, including making the home visits that are the core of SVdP ministry.
In 2008, John received the Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen Humanitarian Award from Catholic Community Services of Western Washington, heralded as an amazing leader and inspiration to other volunteers.
While John was a leader who communicated great ideas, Father Moran said, “to my mind his most important quality was his humility.”
John talked about his faith journey in a 2014 feature in Northwest Catholic.
“I just reached a point where it wasn’t like a decision on my part to care about social service and the poor,” he said. “It was simply that if you are a Catholic and you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s automatic.”
In the article, John expressed his hope that his legacy would be “an example of what a follower of Jesus looks like.”
In 2018, he received SVdP’s Least of My Brethren award; in 2019, SVdP honored him by creating a special leadership award in his name to be given to an outstanding leader every year.
During the last few hours McGinn spent with her father, she asked if he wanted her to share anything.
“Speaking was difficult for him by that point,” she said, “but he responded, ‘Tell them they serve God by serving others.’”
The Morfords are survived by their five children, six grandchildren, a great-grandchild, numerous extended family members and friends. Memorial arrangements will be announced after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, McGinn said.