Diane Morris succumbs to cancer
Councilwoman dead only 3 months after reelection

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Councilwoman Diane Morris, 45, died Monday less than six months after being diagnosed with cancer and only three months into her second term as a council member.
   "It shocked me because I had such high hopes she would pull out of it," Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers told the Star on Monday shortly after hearing the news of Morris's death. "She was a sincere person and very hard working, and her whole intention was to do the very best for the city and the people."
   Morris was diagnosed with rectal cancer during the week of Sept. 23. She had undergone radiation and chemotherapy to treat the disease late last year.
   When she spoke with the Star about her illness in October, Morris was upbeat about the election and her chances for recovery.
   "It has been a battle," said Morris of her condition in October. "It has been tough, but it is a battle that can be won."
   Morris had won her second term in November squeaking by candidate Sidney Cox by only two votes.
   City Manager Charles Stahl said Monday that the city had extended their deepest condolences to the Morris family. He said he and administrative assistant Sandra Davis had visited Morris in the hospital less than one week ago.
   "She put the community first," City Manager Charles Stahl said Monday afternoon. "She was always working for the people of Elizabethton and she did so without bias."
   A Sycamore Shoals Hospital employee confirmed Saturday that Morris was in the hospital's intensive care unit. A telephone call to Morris's residence Friday was forwarded to a recording informing the caller that the telephone number had been disconnected or was not in service.
   An alumna of Elizabethton High School, Morris is the daughter of Nannie Morris and the late Elbert "Mack" Morris.
   She was the youngest member of the City Council when elected to her first term in 1998. She had served as a council representative on the Animal Control Board, Elizabethton Electric System board of directors, and the Economic Development Commission.
   City council members reacted with shock and sadness to the news of Morris's death on Monday. Many said they received word of their colleague's passing away shortly after lunch on Monday.
   "I and the city are deeply grieved over the loss of Diane," said Mayor Sam LaPorte. "She has been a wonderful person as well as a great contributor to the city council."
   LaPorte noted the absence of Morris at several council meetings since October and had requested the public to keep her in their thoughts and prayers. He said he had last spoke with Morris over the weekend.
   Morris was elected to her first term on the city council after two previous campaigns for council fell short. She, Mayor Pro Tem Sam Shipley, and Councilwoman Janie Smith McKinney won their first terms of office the same year.
   "Diane was a very good girl, and she was a very good council person," said Shipley. "I had a lot of admiration for her."
   Before winning her first term on the council, Morris ran unsuccessfully for a seat in 1994 and 1996. However, her persistence paid off in 1998 - a persistence Shipley said was evident in Morris's service as a council member.
   "She was well-thought of in the community and it certainly carried over on the council," he said.
   Councilwoman Nancy Alsup said she and Morris often discussed the nuts and bolts of issues that came before the council.
   "It is a sad loss, and it's a sad time," said an emotional Alsup. "She fought a good fight."
   McKinney recalled good times and friendship the two developed as council members.
   "It's just tough," said McKinney. "She might not always agree with us, but we always came to agreement on an issue."
   McKinney also noted the irony of Morris's past work with the American Cancer Society's "Relay for Life" event in Elizabethton.
   Councilman Richard Sammons said he had visited Morris shortly after learning about her condition last year. He praised her work on the council and in the community.
   "I talked to her and remember telling her I would be praying for her," he said. "I had a lot respect for Diane."
   The last Council member to die while in office was the late J.I. Cornett who died on June 20, 1997. He had defeated Morris by 26 votes in the 1996 city election. LaPorte was appointed by the council to serve the remainder of Cornett's term.
   According to state law, the Council must fill the a vacated council position within 30 days by an affirmative vote of a majority of the remaining council members. If a tie vote by the council to fill a vacancy is unbroken for 30 days, the mayor appoints a qualified person to fill the vacancy.
   The appointee serves until the next regular city or county election, whichever is first held. The next county election is scheduled for Aug. 5, 2004.
   Council members said Morris will not be easy to replace.
   "It was a blessing from God that she got re-elected because it encouraged her," said Sammons. "Diane had a servant's heart ... and that is a tremendous quality."