By Gordon Williams – Red Cross volunteer, Bremerton, WA
Edited by Colin Downey
When Chuck Morrison took over as executive director of the Snohomish County chapter of the American Red Cross 14 ½ years ago, he had some work to do.
The chapter, based in Everett, WA – one of the seven chapters that make up the Northwest Region of the Red Cross – had gone through seven CEO’s in six years and community involvement and fundraising efforts suffered through the transitions.
When Morrison retires on July 1, he will leave behind a very different sort of organization. He has worked hard at forging close relations with the local community. “Part of my job is to be the public face of the Red Cross in the community,” he says, “I have tried to meet with as many elected officials as possible and I speak to every Rotary Club that asks me.” Morrison, along with staff and volunteers, attends the meetings of local fire chiefs – important given the Red Cross role of assisting victims of home fires.
Service to the Armed Forces is a core Red Cross function and Naval Station Everett is a major military facility in the county. “Our relationship there is very strong,” Morrison says. There is always someone from the base command structure on the Red Cross chapter board. Also, he says, “We have taken the time and effort to make everyone at the naval base aware of all the services to the military we provide.”
Snohomish County, under Morrison, has played a stellar role in the Red Cross home fire campaign, which aims to slash fire deaths by installing smoke alarms in homes that lack them.
Not only does the county have smoke alarm teams in the field year around, but it has helped establish best practices for the rest of the Region. “We have 16 percent of the state’s population but we have installed over 35 percent of the state’s smoke alarms,” Morrison says.
For all he has accomplished in other areas, what Morrison is likely to be best-remembered for his role in the response to the 2014 mudslide at Oso, WA that killed 43 people and devastated a community. Oso is in Snohomish County – an unincorporated spot between the cities of Darrington and Arlington. That put Morrison’s chapter in the forefront of the response. He looks back on the Red Cross role at Oso as an example of community involvement at its best.
“In our initial disaster response … we opened shelters, provided food and other assistance including emotional support for the survivors and community members,” Morrison said. “The full story of Oso includes the long-term recovery efforts, which continue more than four years after the disaster.”
The first step was to restore vital services to the community. “Just helping people get to their jobs was a challenge,” he says. Longer-term, the Red Cross has helped fund a counselor for the Darrington school system. “The kids most affected by the disaster went to school in Darrington, where “Everyone knew people who had died.”
The recovery also included funding 80 percent of the cost of a new building in Darrington for the North Counties Family Services – putting all the community agencies in a single location. Previously the center had operated from a mobile home.
Morrison was born in Western Massachusetts. He graduated from Providence College with a degree in business administration. Much of his career was spent managing college bookstores. He came to Washington to manage the bookstore at Everett Community College but eventually took over fundraising for the college. That’s what he was doing when the Red Cross recruited him.
“Chuck’s dedication to public service and his commitment to the mission has set an example for all his fellow Red Crossers to follow,” said Alex Dieffenbach, CEO of the American Red Cross, Northwest Region.
Once retired, Morrison first plans to take wife Cecile and their two children on a pack-horse trip through the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area in Oregon. “I have also doubled the size of our backyard vegetable garden,” he says, “and I intend to take some fly-fishing trips I haven’t had time for.”
Morrison has one final thought on the eve of his retirement – a thank-you to Gail McGovern, national chief executive of the American Red Cross. “I would like to recognize Gail’s leadership,” he says, “in making the big changes nationally that allow us to be as effective as we’ve become in delivering both our services and our message.”