Call me ‘Bo’

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Bo at the helm

I GREW UP with his children as our families regularly beached, sailed, hunted, and socialized together. To us, he was always ‘Mr. Morrison’, which is how I greeted him after being away from Charleston for more than 30 years.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, he held my handshake warmly in his, looked at me with his usual kind expression, and said, “Call me Bo.” It came as a surprise, but he clearly meant it, and that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years. It could never erase, however, the vivid image of him from those early years.

Early in his legal career, Bo won a landmark case that I was too young to understand at the time, but we quickly formed an impression of him as our Raymond Burr playing Perry Mason in Charleston. He was fun-loving and easy to be fond of, but he commanded respect. To us, he had the bearing of a royal admiral, even when he was off duty and playful. It helped, of course, that his wife Felicia—a dear friend of my mother’s—served as master sergeant of the Morrison family with her relentless energy and the aura of a well organized storm.

Of all my parents’ friends, Bo was the most colorful and charismatic. He seemed larger than life, and he liked to live life large whenever he could. He always lit up the room when he entered. Most distinct in my memory are the bushy eyebrows, the twinkle gleaming just beneath them, and a booming laugh that exuded joie de vivre. It made you feel better just to hear Bo laugh.

I also remember his endlessly elegant taste in flamboyant neck ties. He seemed to take special pride in wearing the most striking, least expected, most fashionable designs. It was a predilection that carried over to his taste in shirts, slacks (those madras!), sport jackets (pastels!), and fine shoes. I used to wait expectantly to see what he would be wearing whenever he came to our house for cocktails or a dinner party—those wonderful weekly events of that generation.

My brothers and I would sit in our pajamas at the top of the long stairs watching guests as they arrived. Bo seemed to sparkle and twinkle when he stepped inside. He always noticed us, too, usually winking at us and saying something like, “How are you boys doing tonight?” or “What’s a handsome bunch of boys like you doing still up?” or “You boys better get off to bed.” Whatever he said didn’t matter. The important thing was that he threw some of his special charm our way. Sometimes it made us scamper. Sometimes we just giggled and relished in it.

Bo loved to dress up and he loved a party. He was at ease holding forth, entertaining with a story, even singing. His vivaciousness also fell on himself with the same good humor that he shared with others. My mother told the story of him walking into a party and reaching for the hors d’oeuvres, only to discover—too late—that he had eaten a handful of potpourri! But no one recovered from a moment like that better, or with more panache, than Bo.

He preferred, of course, to be in command, whether in the court room, the living room, the lounge, or the deck of a boat. He especially liked the latter, with the tiller in his hands. Sailing suited him particularly well because he was comfortable issuing commands from the helm. He genuinely adored everything about the sailing scene—despite the fact that he was known for getting seriously seasick virtually every time he went off shore. But it never quelled his desire to go to sea. It never mellowed his enthusiasm for the sport, the camaraderie, or the adventure. More than that, it was a testament to a unique fortitude of character that endeared him to so many.

Bo’s good nature could also grow stern. More than once I watched that jovial brow furrow with fury and force, a few times in my direction. But it never lasted long. His sweet nature preferred tacking for better weather as soon as he could, and he was quick to ease any tension with good humor.

I recall one night as a young boy of 10 or so at a small hunting lodge where, after a solid meal of steak, potatoes, and whisky, everyone had retired for the night in close quarters where, among other things, we were suffering the protracted vibrations of a particular guest’s snoring. After a while, Bo’s voice commanded from the dark that son Howell go to the foot of the guest’s bed and twist his big toe until he turn over—and hopefully stop snoring. I am sure everyone else waited in the same tense silence, with the same muted laughter, that I did while Howell did diligent duty. I think of it now as a good example of Bo’s way. He enjoyed having ideas as much as having others execute them while he awaited results from the surety of his captain’s chair.

The truth is, I didn’t know Bo very well. I had the impression that only a few people really did. My sense was that he held a certain part of himself in reserve, at a distance, slightly guarded. But he welcomed you in with his charm, his warmth, and his wit in a way that made you love him for being ‘Bo’.

His was a long, full life of family, friends, success, and fun. He can happily set sail without regrets. As sad as it is for us to see him go, it is joyous to think of him voyaging the deep, tacking for that other shore.

Clear sailing, Captain Bo.


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16 Responses to “Call me ‘Bo’”

  1. Addison Ingle

    What a wonderful piece!

  2. Hagood Morrison

    Well Done.

  3. Maia

    What a beautiful tribute!

  4. Dano

    Superb description of one-of-a-kind! Thanks, Peter!

  5. Gigi Wallace

    Master Sergeant! Great description of Big Fe!

  6. Jeanne Kaufman

    What a wonderful story!

  7. Morgan Falk


  8. Jack Blount

    Beautiful and well written. Bo was quite a character and a rock of stability in this crazy world we live in!

  9. Sister Rutledge

    What a great and true article about a true Charleston Legend.

  10. Ad Ingle

    Wonderfully written. A fine, accurate appraisal of my great, close friend. Thank you very much.

  11. Jim Nimmich

    A wonderful tribute that definitely hits the mark!

  12. Madge

    Perfect description!

  13. Felicia Huger

    Peter, that is so beautiful! I have read and re-read many times today! Thank you so much for your kind words. Your entire family means a lot to my family!

  14. Bob Moseley

    Wonderfully written tribute to an outstanding man.

  15. Liz DeSaussure Akiky

    Incredible tribute to a very special man.

  16. Judy Cassatt

    I will never forget the wonderful times we had on the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit. I have a memory when Felicia and I hopped on the boat bringing it back on the last leg from Beaufort to Charleston. Bo let me skipper and we promptly ran aground. We sat on a sand bar for four hours. He actually had a sense of humor, thank God! Everyone else was really furious. Especially my husband at the time!


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