Phillip Morris, frankly the best lecturer in the world, has passed away. We found this out today and being alumni of a writing course it seemed pertinent to write something. So this is me doing that, this is my experience of Phil Morris.
Phil entered our lives via espionage. Posing at first as a humble lecturer before revealing himself to being so much more, a motivator, a sooth sayer, a mentor, a friend, someone you could bounce ideas off and know you’d get straight answers, someone who was more than happy to talk shop and shoot the shit in the same five minutes.
He wasn’t just a payroll leech, he acted completely as a human person and we were all human people too. He captivated us with stories about his fly-on-the-wall life during the Nathan Barley era in London, he regaled us with tales of teaching his American wife the ways of irony and he listened to our stories as well. Not just the stuff we were handing in, but our stories of life, joy and woe.
The reason I put these words here is because The Shonk wouldn’t exist without him. When we started out as an unauthorised, anonymous newsletter criticising the university he endorsed us entirely – he figured that as I didn’t take anything seriously and the other co-founder took everything seriously it might balance out. Also he contributed to our work from the perspective of a lecturer which was awesome – he loved to sprinkle just the right amount of chaos into the mix to keep things interesting, but also positive. He was never one to rest on the status quo.
If you saw him in town, usually in the Murenger he’d interact with you, carry on the conversation from earlier, bring you into the loop, because he never saw a loop, he just saw string and we were all part of it.
The summer between my first and second year was quite bleak and through it all he kept in touch, when I started my second year I bumped into him in the corridor, he looked at me, said ‘fuck this’ and we went out for lunch. Where he asked me how I was, not just ‘how are you’ but really, truly asked how I was… and he told me things I needed to hear, he never messed around when it came to saying things and as such you felt the value of what was said.
He loved The Beatles and I mocked him for it, I remember telling him that Catcher in The Rye was my favourite book because it inspired Mark Chapman and he called me a prick.
I also remember we sat in my car in a multi-story carpark (I don’t know why we were there) and listened to the entire Grey Album together before parting ways.
He was never happy that I didn’t complete my third year, but he understood why. He joined my company as a contributing director and donated his expertise and wisdom to help us thrive. He was always present, even after he moved to The London he would still read and respond to my ramblings and tedious inner-conflicts. We discussed the dangers of echo chambers and maintained a reoccuring joke about my mum dating the former poet laureate. We both disliked the deification of John Frost, we both loved Vanilla Sky and debated Nicholas Cage. He was a character in a slapdash story I wrote that happened to win first prize (still the only accolade / prize I have to this day) and he never even mostly wanted royalties.
I know some of these things are waffle but, when someone is gone you reflect and uncover all these bits and pieces that you forget about, hidden under the rocks in your head. Phil did all of these things for me or with me and it’s heartbreaking to think that he isn’t here anymore to do it with and for other people – because it’s what he did. He helped people excel but kept on as their friend.
I chose the article headline because he used to hate it when I said it to him, ever since I watched that film I just couldn’t help it, but I can vividly picture the way he’d laugh and say ‘prick’ whenever I said it, usually after something profound.
When we last spoke he called an idealist… I think the only reason he knew that is because he was an idealist as well.
It’s a horrible thought, knowing that he isn’t there anymore, but I am so grateful for having met him and for having the experiences that knowing Phillip Morris brought. I love you Phillip Morris.