Kelly James Morris, 51, Septa driver and active churchman

Posted: July 22, 2014

IT SAYS something about Kelly Morris that his funeral was attended by nearly 1,000 people, that SEPTA, his employer, had to use two buses to bring co-workers to the services.

What it says is that Kelly James Morris was an exceptional human being, a man who captured the hearts and esteem of just about everybody he came in contact with.

He was a man who could never pass up a chance to help a person who needed his special brand of love and caring, be it the children of neighbors, family or friends who needed a surrogate dad, the elderly, the hungry, prisoners - the full spectrum of human need.

"He truly had a servant spirit," said his brother Troy Morris. "He was an old soul."

Kelly Morris, a trolley and train operator for SEPTA, a dedicated churchman and avid sports fan who would go outside and bang on pans when a team won a big game, died July 12 of a coronary embolism. He was 51 and lived in the Parkside section of West Philadelphia.

Kelly got the nickname "Rocky" in childhood, and the name stuck. Although it's unlikely he ever ran up the Art Museum steps, he embodied many of the characteristics of the fabled Rocky Balboa:

Determined, stubborn, caring and two-fisted.

A fighter, like the film character played by Sylvester Stallone, he kept bouncing back from various maladies over the years, never letting physical problems keep him out of the fray.

"He was the 'Comeback Kid,' " his brother said. "He rebounded from bouts with maladies of the body, heart and spirit."

Kelly was a neighborhood treasure. "He felt it was his calling to visit and help care for the sick, visit and accept calls from prisoners, comfort and console the bereaved, and help out in the community in ways large and small," his brother said.

He would pay for the funerals of neighbors who couldn't afford them. He would ask his brothers to chip in, but any shortfall he covered out of his own pocket.

Kelly loved gospel music, and he and his mother, the former Sarah Eure, would listen to gospel music programs together. And if Bishop G.E. Patterson, the late Pentecostal TV preacher, was giving a sermon, they would be glued to the tube.

"We would be watching a football game, and they'd be watching Patterson," his brother said.

Kelly was born in Philadelphia, the fourth of seven children. His father, James W. Morris, a former rural Virginia sharecropper, died in 1982. His mother was born in North Carolina.

He graduated from Overbrook High School in 1980, and went on to West Chester University. After two years there, he took a job as a sales clerk at the John Wanamaker Store in Wynnewood.

In 1992, he started at SEPTA. He first drove the Media trolley, and then the Norristown High-Speed Line.

"He was beloved by the younger passengers, teenagers and ones in their early 20s," his brother said. "He related to them."

Kelly was a longtime member of Wynnefield Baptist Church under the pastorate of his cousin, the Rev. Melton C. Harrell. He served on numerous ministries, including the youth choir and the trustees board.

In the early '90s, he switched to the Bible Way Baptist Church under the Rev. Damone B. Jones.

"Once again, at a new church home, Kelly jumped in where he fit in, serving on the sanctuary choir and the hospitality ministry," his brother said.

Kelly enjoyed cruises to the Caribbean and got a kick out of gambling on the ships. He didn't normally gamble, because he was very frugal. He would go shopping and exult in a bargain he picked up, even though the item might not have been anything he needed.

Kelly had a phenomenal memory for dates and events going back into the past.

"If you told him your birth date, he would never forget it," said his brother, who works for Radiate Media Broadcaster, which supplies updates to traffic reporters.

Besides his mother and brother, he is survived by two other brothers, Kelvin Jay and Michael, and a sister, Jamie. Besides his father, he was predeceased by two brothers, Artie and Jody.

Services: Were Sunday. Burial was at Fernwood Cemetery.

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