EVERETT —Little did Chuck Morrison realize how much it would change his life when he picked up the phone.
Everett attorney James Shipman was on the other end of the line and he had a proposition.
Shipman, who served on the board of trustees for the Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross, asked Morrison if he might consider becoming interim director of the local nonprofit.
The pair had come to know each other at Everett Community College, where years earlier Shipman had served as student body president and Morrison headed up the college foundation that raised money for scholarships and campus needs.
The agency that helps save lives through first aid and CPR training, blood donations and emergency responses needed significant assistance of its own.
There had been turnover, layoffs, a dwindling number of volunteers and sagging morale.
“He told me about some of the challenges,” Morrison said. “The main thing at that point was financial solvency,”
That was more than 14 years ago. Today, the office on Lombard Avenue is financially stable. Over that time, the number of volunteers has increased from 50 to roughly 400. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Snohomish County alone sent 175 Red Cross volunteers to help. In recent times, local volunteers have been called to help with human-caused disasters as well in the form of mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas.
Morrison, who was hired as executive director after his interim stint, played a key role in the rebound. He retired a week ago, proud of the organization and what it does, but looking forward to having more time for family and fly fishing, hiking and walking the dog.
A co-worker described his steady presence.
“He was just there, if that makes sense,” said Jamie Gravelle, a Snohomish County American Red Cross volunteer for a decade before being hired as its disaster program manager. “He was always involved in the community and looking for ways to bring more people to support the Red Cross mission.”
Gravelle started up as a volunteer around the time Morrison was hired. He embraced change, whether it was a national push to install smoke alarms or a more regional approach to deploying resources, she said.
Their roles were different. Gravelle, a former Mountlake Terrace City Council member, is frequently sought by national Red Cross leaders to assist in major relief efforts. She has covered a lot of ground over the years, spending time on relief efforts for Florida, Louisiana, Texas and, more recently, for hurricane-battered Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Morrison understood his role was not on the front lines, but getting people to where they needed to be and fostering relationships near and far.
“He’s been very supportive of employees and volunteers,” Gravelle said.
Morrison, 65, also has been supportive in a behind-the-scenes way.
After the deadly 2014 Oso mudslide, Morrison built strong bonds that remain intact.
“He was a true champion for the whole Stilly Valley,” said Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin. “You never saw anyone with so much compassion. He was in it for the long haul … He is still engaged and still pulling rabbits out of his hat, finding things that continue to make the difference.”
Morrison understood that the effects of a devastating disaster are lifelong, Rankin said.
“Chuck got that, and he was willing to put the effort in so that there would be long-term measures so that folks weren’t forgotten,” the mayor said.
Morrison was there from the beginning, said Paul Ellis, Arlington’s city administrator. Ellis was in the Costco parking lot at Smokey Point the morning of the mudslide, talking by cellphone with Morrison about setting up an emergency operations center. They spoke often during the initial response and the months and years that followed.
Nearly three years ago, Morrison recruited Ellis to serve on the local Red Cross board. Since then, Ellis has learned about the breadth and depth of what the agency does. He’s been impressed by the efforts to recognize volunteers, and how often they are asked to give reports to the board of places they’ve been or work they’ve done.
“Chuck in my opinion has really put the Snohomish County chapter of the Red Cross on the map,” Ellis said. “It’s amazing how much support he has generated.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.