Josephine Rettie Morgan
Jan 14, 1935 - Dec 10, 2016
Josephine Rettie Morgan
Jan 14, 1935 - Dec 10, 2016
Josephine Rettie Morgan was born in 1935 in The Dalles, Oregon to Lois & James Rettie. The second of three children, she grew up in a multi-generational household that included her grandmother. Her family moved a great deal beginning in Fossil, Oregon, then moving to Portland when she was just two years old, and on to Juneau, Alaska in 1941 when she was six.
Even though she was only there for two years, that time in Alaska left a lasting impression. During World War II there were frequent blackouts – something that was not lost on young Jo. Her father was working for the US Department of the Interior and left Alaska before them. Her big brother, Dwight, told us if there were concerns of enemy kidnappings of government employees that meant that when it was time for her and her family to leave Juneau, they were summoned by a secret code and then rushed to board a ship bound for the lower 48 in the night. She and her siblings loved to recount the voyage home, during which their ship broke down so they were transferred to a military vessel for the remainder of the voyage where the kids and their mom were quite the novelty to the sailors.
She returned to Portland when she was eight, went on to Philadelphia when she was nine and finally to Washington DC where she attended The Friends Quaker School and frequented the Unitarian Church with her family.
In 1953 she graduated secondary school and went on to Oberlin College. There she met the handsome and charming Christopher Morgan of Amherst, MA, during her first week of college while sitting around a dinner table. “That’s the man I want to marry,” she tells us she thought at the time, and sure enough she did. Smitten by her brilliant red hair and charm, Chris served in Korea for two years but maintained their courtship throughout. They were married in 1955. Although they were married, it was not common for wedded couples to remain enrolled in college at that time. Since they were both still enrolled at Oberlin, they had to ask the dean of students for permission to move off campus together – Jo still has the letter from her parents asking the dean to grant them permission.
Jo finished her degree in Education and taught 2nd grade for two years before moving to Eugene, OR where Chris enrolled at the University of Oregon for Architecture. There she had two daughters, Elizabeth in 1961 and Pamela in 1963. It was in Eugene that she joined the League of Women voters and began a lifetime of activism and political engagement.
In 1968 Chris started a job with a firm in Seattle so they moved the family to Bainbridge Island, WA. She became active as a volunteer with the schools teaching art at the elementary level and later advising high school students who participated in off-campus studies. She continued her work with the League, serving on the Washington State board of directors, traveling the country training other league chapters and ultimately serving as Vice President of the Washington State LWV. Over the years she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and invested her time into educating voters about pertinent current issues. An advocate of voters’ rights, she bucked the national League’s trend by opposing the move to electronic voting machines that did not provide a verifiable record to the voter – a concern that seems prescient today. In 2011, she was honored by the League for 50 years of service with a recognition event and award of Lifetime Membership.
In addition to being a devoted wife, mother and political wunderkind, Jo was entrepreneurial. In 1975 she opened The Cork Shop, a fine wine retail store in the Winslow Mall – one of the first of its kind in the Puget Sound region and in the early days of California’s now legendary fine wine production. The shop survived her departure in 1980, when she and Chris moved to Pullman, WA where Chris began a teaching career that would last another 18 years, taking them to Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA for three years before settling in Charlotte, NC.
While Chris got his teaching career rolling, Jo went back to school to study art. A weaver since her Bainbridge days, Jo had been a member of the Seattle Weavers Guild and a board member of Bainbridge Arts and Crafts. She wrestled with her painting-biased MFA committee to allow her to present her art as worthy of an MFA. Ultimately she won them over with the application of an unusual technique called Krokbradg and was awarded her MFA in 1990. In the meantime, she had opened a yarn and supplies store in Davidson, NC, that allowed her to practice her weaving all day while serving other artists. Her work was shown in galleries throughout the Southeast, and she applied to and was accepted in the Piedmont Craftsmen – a prestigious arts organization promoting fine work in craftsmanship. She moved the Weavers Studio into Charlotte, joining forces with partner Jan Wescott. The studio quickly became a hub of knitting and weaving classes, practice and yarn and tools sales. She sold the business to her employees when Chris retired in 1998. They returned to the West Coast, deciding on Bellingham, WA as their home.
Over the years she and Chris traveled frequently – she’s been to every state in the union, the Bahamas, New Zealand, Tahiti, Canada, Greece, Russia, Mexico, Hawaii, France, England, Scotland and especially to Italy, where Chris taught summer architecture classes. In 2002 she traveled to China to help with the adoption of her third grandchild.
In Bellingham she continued weaving, joined Allied Arts, helped run the Arts Commission, and helped lead the local LWV for a time. One of her weavings is displayed in Village Books, along the stairway to the mezzanine. Jo loved to cook and entertain, and she and Chris enjoyed competing in their Bellingham bridge club. Jo was also a member of the Eccentrics Book Club for many years.
Jo’s productive life and career was cut short in 2009 when she suffered a massive stroke. Four years of speech therapy did not enable her to recover her ability to write or talk, though she was still able to walk and continued to live independently and care for herself for years. Chris died unexpectedly in 2011, and she has been looked after and cared for by her devoted son-in-law, Burrell Jull ever since. The stroke did not keep Jo from reading, and in the years since her stroke she consumed hundreds of books – biographies, history, political analysis and occasionally, a story of fiction. She read the Bellingham Herald every morning, watched the PBS News Hour every night and lunched at the Harris Avenue Café every day.
Jo was preceded in death by her parents James and Lois, her brothers Dwight and William Rettie, and her husband, Chris. She leaves her daughters Pamela (Burrell) and Elizabeth (Garth), and three amazing, hard working, and talented grandchildren, Peter Burrell Jull of Bellingham and Katharine and Natalie Cowan of Olympia.
A party in her honor will be held at the Harris Avenue Café in Fairhaven from 4-6 p.m. on Wednesday, December 28th. All are welcome to visit, enjoy each others company, view photos and weavings from Jo’s life and share your memories of her life. Light refreshments will be provided.
In lieu of flowers she would ask that donations be made to the League of Women Voters of Whatcom County or Mount Baker Planned Parenthood.
Celebration Of Life
- Date & Time: Aug 20, 2019 (No Time)
Venue: Harris Avenue Caf
Location: 1101 Harris Ave Bellingham, WA 98225
- Phone Number: -