“There are only four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers. Those who are currently caregivers. Those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”
― Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter
President, Board of Directors, Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
Mental Health and Human Rights Advocate
Each November, the Golden West Chapter recognizes National Family Caregivers Month, and we pay tribute to the individuals who provide daily assistance to those living with the challenges of ALS. Being a caregiver is an act of tremendous love that requires selflessness, courage, humor, and tenacity. Caring for someone with ALS is particularly difficult, and doing so can be a transformative experience.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Susan (Sue) Smith and Mark (Mickey) Morris met in 1956 at Lowell High school, and were married in 1962. They moved to Marin County in 1968, and raised their two children, Kathy and Steve, there. Mickey became an optometrist, and chose to work in San Francisco’s Mission District. Dr. Mark Morris was determined to bring sight to anyone in the community in need, and was an advocate for increased optometric services provided by Medi Cal. Sue served her local community on school boards for 12 years and worked as a curator, archivist, and historian, specializing in Western United States History, and was the Director of the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley.
They shared a deep love of family, travel, theatre, and community service, and surrounded themselves with an amazing group of friends with whom they enjoyed games, travel, good meals and adventures. As loyal Cal Fans, the family had over four decades of season tickets and went camping annually at the Lair of the Bear. As fourth generation San Franciscians, Sue and Mickey were also devoted San Francisco Giants fans, and baseball had been an important part of their life, since the Giants came to San Francisco in 1958 and played at Seals Stadium.
Sue and Mickey shared a gentle, loving and incredibly supportive relationship, and were looking forward to retirement together. It was a tremendous blow when he was diagnosed with ALS in October 2008. They faced it together with the same strength and dignity that defined their lives, and endured each change in Mickey’s condition with patience and good spirits. They were fortunate during this difficult time to be surrounded, not only by his close friends and family, but also by a group of tireless and deeply compassionate caregivers, and the multidisciplinary team at the ALS Center at UCSF. It was while on a visit with Dr. Catherine Lomen-Hoerth at UCSF in November 2008 that they became aware of an educational event about ALS research hosted by the Golden West Chapter. While there, they met Jim Barber who was living with ALS and his wife, Cheryl, who talked with them about ALS advocacy. They decided to get involved, and registered for Chapter services. They also attended ALS Awareness Day with the Chapter with the San Francisco Giants. Sadly, Dr. Mark Morris died of ALS on August 17, 2010.
Sue and Mickey were married for 48 years, and the experience of his two year battle with ALS was transformative for her. Recognizing the challenges facing other families living with ALS, Sue made a decision that she wanted to help others. She joined the volunteer leadership at the Golden West Chapter in 2011 as the Chair of the Fund Development Committee, and subsequently became Chair of the Chapter’s Campaign for Cures and Care. Sue also became a driving force on the Chapter’s annual Champions for Cures and Care event committee. Sue served as Vice-Chair of the Chapter’s Board of Directors until 2016, and then as Board Chair from 2017 until 2020.
As a part of her service on the board, Sue participated in raising awareness and support for the ALS community in many ways. She could be found frequently at Golden West Chapter Walk to Defeat ALS and Ride to Defeat ALS events. There, wearing her favorite red ALS shirt, Sue was often found spending time talking with families who are currently battling ALS and listening intently to their experiences. “The people that I met at the Walks and Ride were so inspiring to me,” said Sue. “People with ALS and their families are the heart and soul of all that we do at the Chapter. It was also wonderful to get to meet the care managers and experience the different communities across our service area.”
For three years, Sue traveled to Washington, DC, as part of a chapter delegation at the National ALS Advocacy Conference, There she would speak with elected officials about the urgent needs of the ALS community and the importance of funding for ALS research and care initiatives. “The experience was remarkable,” said Sue. ”It is a profound feeling to be together with so many people impacted by ALS from throughout the United States. The act of raising my individual voice about ALS to my individual representative was extraordinary.”
In addition, Sue was always willing to represent the ALS community at many ALS awareness games with the San Francisco Giants. “Going to the Giants games was such a touchstone for me,” said Sue. “It was always very poignant for me to meet the families there, but on a more personal level – I really missed Mickey when I was there. For Mickey’s 50th birthday, we drove around the US and visited every National League ballpark together. It was also very rewarding to engage with our community partners, like Cytokinetics.”
As Board Chair, Sue had a number of opportunities to inspire attendees to raise critically-needed funding to support the critical mission priorities of the Chapter in Care, Research, and Advocacy at our annual Champions for Cures and Care events. “I love being a part of honoring the many heroes in the fight against ALS,” said Sue. “People who have gone above and beyond in their efforts. People dedicated to advancing scientific discovery, providing compassionate care and support, inspiring others to action, and empowering people affected by ALS to live their lives to the fullest.”
“This is a disease that devastates families, and there is much to be done to better serve people with ALS and their loved ones,” said Sue Morris, at the 2018 Champions for Cures and Care Celebration.
“Commitment. Care. Cures. Community. That’s what the Golden West Chapter is, at its essence, all about. Working together, we CAN make a difference and advance the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS!”
In recent years, with a deep recognition of the significant issues facing family caregivers, Sue and her children decided to support the mission of the Golden West Chapter in a new way. They wanted to help to fund the many critically-needed programs and novel initiatives that provide vital and transformative support to caregivers with a loved one with ALS. Working with the Chapter, they launched the Morris Family Caregiver Initiative to help provide meaningful support for caregivers throughout the Chapter’s service area in 31 counties in California and the entire state of Hawaii.
She remains active as a Chapter board member today, and as a committee member of the Champions for Cures and Care. “Helping others has always been at the core of our family’s ethos, and I am proud to do my part in service of the mission of the Golden West Chapter,” said Sue. “When someone has gone through having a loved one with ALS, you want to ensure that others do not have to experience this devastating loss.
“Interestingly, channeling my compassion for the ALS community and passion for making a difference has helped me tremendously. The programs that the Chapter provides offer meaningful help to families; I know firsthand the difference it makes. I want everyone who reads this to know that they too can make an impact.”
Sue Morris exemplifies that people who care about others can apply themselves with purpose and focus to change the world for the better. Thank you Sue for caring, for your commitment to the Golden West Chapter, and for all you do in support of the ALS community.