There was plenty of laughter, along with fond remembrances and heartfelt tributes, at a ceremony Councilmember Justin Brannan hosted Saturday to co-name a Bay Ridge street corner in honor of late community activist Larry Morrish.
Joined by Morrish’s wife Phillipa and members of the Morrish family, Brannan unveiled the new street sign for “Lawrence ‘Larry’ Morrish Way” on the corner of Fort Hamilton Parkway and 101st Street, outside the main gate of the Fort Hamilton Army Base.
Morrish, whose outsized personality and ability to bring disparate groups together made him a Bay Ridge legend, played a leading role in many of neighborhood’s most significant moments over the past 45 years. He died in 2016 at the age of 71.
It’s fitting that “Lawrence ‘Larry’ Morrish Way” is located directly outside the fort, according to Brannan, who said Fort Hamilton is “a base that Larry fought so hard to protect over the years.”
Calling Morrish “our ultimate ambassador,” Brannan said Bay Ridge “was really in Larry’s DNA” and that “not everyone leaves such an impact.”
Morrish was one of the founders of the Bay Ridge Ambulance Volunteer Organization (BRAVO), the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force and the Bay Ridge Saint Patrick Parade, and was a member of the Bay Ridge Community Council.
“He couldn’t go through life without helping someone,” his brother George Morrish told the overflow crowd at the ceremony.
Morrish had a special affinity for the military, despite the fact that he never served in uniform, and often worked with business and civic leaders to protect the base from the threat of closure or downsizing. In addition, he worked with local business leaders to get jobs for military spouses.
“You don’t have to wear a uniform to lead a life of service,” said Col. Andrew Zieseniss, the fort’s current commander. Zieseniss added that Morrish’s influence “will continue for years to come.”
Dr. Ahmad Jaber, a founder of the Arab American Association of New York, praised Morrish for reaching out to the Muslim community and making immigrants feel welcome.
When Muslims first started moving into Bay Ridge, “there was some tension,” according to Jaber, who said that there was a level of mistrust directed at the newcomers by longtime residents.
Morrish “decided to say we are having one community,” Jaber recalled. That was the beginning of the Bay Ridge Unity Task Force. “When you are a newcomer, you feel timid. Larry took the hands of us. He introduced us to civic engagement activity,” Jaber said.
Mike Long, former chairperson of the New York State Conservative Party, elicited laughter from the crowd when he recalled how Morrish would always refer to him in public as “General Long.” Long, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said he never rose above the rank of colonel. But Morrish called him “General Long” so often, the soldiers at Fort Hamilton started calling him general, too. They also saluted him.
Peter Clavin, who has served as master of ceremonies for many Bay Ridge parades over the years, gave Morrish a job in his funeral home, Joseph P. Clavin Sons Inc. He recalled a trip the two took together to Maimonides Medical Center to collect the remains of a person who was to be waked at the funeral home. After securing the remains, Clavin was ready to head back to the funeral home when he realized that Morrish was not in the car.
After searching the entire hospital, Clavin finally found his buddy. Morrish was sitting in the office of Pamela Brier, the president at the time, chatting with her. The episode was a perfect example of how “Larry knew everybody,” and could talk his way into any office, Clavin said.
Morrish worked with Maimonides administrators on the Celebration of Light, a program that continues to this day in which the hospital pays for the Christmas lights for dozens of Brooklyn churches.
BRAVO President Tony Napoli recalled Morrish’s ability to get things done. “Larry was assertive. He had his hand into everything. He made us better and allowed us to grow,” Napoli said.