Jenny Morris, a 21-year-old UC Berkeley student, was the kind of person everyone wanted to hang out with: sincere, genuine and without artifice.
“Jenny was such a beautiful, loving, caring, intelligent, bright shining star,” her cousin Drew Morris told the crowd gathered for a vigil on the UC Berkeley campus in the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire.
Drew Morris said he saw his cousin last summer at a family reunion, where she fixed a technical problem on one of his devices. He and his wife had spent all day wrestling with it as they traveled to the reunion, and Morris fixed it in about 20 seconds.
That willingness to lend a hand wasn’t just for friends and family, say those who knew her. Morris shone her light equally on everyone she met.
Morris attended San Mateo High School, were she excelled academically (studying pre-calculus as a sophomore, and AP statistics as a senior) as well as artistically, participating in the school choir. “There was a sweet quality to her,” says San Mateo High School choral director Shawn Reifschaneider. “She was honest and authentic and pure. I liken it to the sweet elegance of Audrey Hepburn, and it was endearing to everyone around her.”
When Morris pulled out her ukulele and settled in to sing, Reifschaneider says, the other kids would gather around her, cross-legged on the floor, some joining in with their own ukuleles. “She was the one who drew everyone together.”
San Mateo High math teacher Jared Wilke says his son was in choir with Morris. “He used to ask her to protect him every time they went to sing in a church, so he wouldn’t burn up,” Wilke says. “She’d laugh about it.”
Former San Mateo High student David Huang remembers Morris’ captivating voice. “One of the most magical things is hearing her sing,” Huang says. “She’s so into it, so focused in it. It’s like she was the music.”
Huang is now at the Rhode Island School of Design, but he and Morris regularly got together during college breaks. He remembers Morris pulling up to the curb in her car to pick him up with a big smile on her face. Then the pair would have long talks in cafes. Huang would pull out his sketchbook to draw her as they talked. “I’m not afraid to keep a sketchbook when I’m around her,” Huang says. “She appreciated it. With other people, they would think I’m doing something outside the conversation, but for Jenny it was part of the conversation. Art and music were natural to her.”
Morris went from high school to UC Santa Cruz, and then did a stint at College of San Mateo before transferring to UC Berkeley. She began volunteering this semester at KALX, the university’s radio station, working in the music department. Staff remember how excited she was to discover new music as it arrived at the station. Morris was one of four KALX volunteers who died in the Ghost Ship fire; others include Vanessa Plotkin (Morris’ best friend), Griffin Madden, and Chelsea Faith Dolan.
“It’s been devastating to people at the station,” station manager Sandra Wasson says. “Our DJs are doing lots of on-air tributes, playing music to help the community heal.”
Morris’ family is deeply moved by the outpouring of love received from the many people whose lives she touched, says brother Chris Morris. “I found this tweet from about a year ago, where she said, ‘2015 was a year of blessings,’” Chris Morris says. "'In 2016 I will be smarter, more humbled and more aligned with the person that I want to be and would be proud of.'"
Watch Jenny Morris sing a cover and her original music at her YouTube channel.