Bernard Morrison Dr. Robert Peterson
A Chess Hero
Upon reflecting on my nearly forty years in Scholastic Chess, I have sometimes wondered how I got to this point in my chess life. Then, I think of Bernard Morrison of Stanton, California. Bernie, as some of his friends called him, came to Southern California from Poland by way of New York and New Jersey. He arrived in the US in 1923 at the age of 18 as a musician with a passion for chess.
He raised a family, and upon retirement, he became more active in providing chess instruction in the local schools. I will readily admit that at this point I could be describing one of ten thousand chess instructors in the United States. So how was Mr. Morrison different, and a chess hero to me? Let me go back a few years to 1973 when I first met him at a meeting of all the chess organizers in Orange County, California.
The group met in the old firehouse in the City of Orange, and there in the meeting sat an old man wearing a suit and tie. I would judge him to be in his late ‘60s with quite a distinguished look. I was later introduced to him and found he was very intense and excited about kids and chess.
At the meeting we created the Orange County Chess Association and agreed that a free K-12 chess tournament would take place every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Later, that event would be called the Bernard Morrison Scholastic Chess Tournament.
As I continued to work with students at my school in the chess club, I also continued to stay in touch with Mr. Morrison. He began to get up in years and had to give up driving due to several health issues, one of which was his failing eyesight. This impacted his ability to go to schools and provide chess instruction to the eager third and fourth graders who assembled in a classroom to listen to this grandfather tell stories about faraway places and a game that is hundreds of years old.
One day I was grading papers in my classroom when I got a call from the office. I asked them for the number, and I returned the call. The voice at the other end was Bernie. As he spoke I realized that he had a concern he wanted to share with me. As I listened he said, “Dewain, you will not believe the opportunity WE have! I have just been invited to a school near my home to teach chess every week on Wednesday afternoon after school.” I replied, “So, how can I help you?” I was figuring he needed some chess equipment or a one-time drop off. But instead, he asked me to drive him to the school and pick him up each week after the lesson which would take an hour. That amount of time after school every week was a challenge for a full-time teacher. I knew that Bernie was also involved in the Gifted Program in several school districts and had been working with the Braille Institute to promote chess for the blind among youngsters in Orange County. So, I reluctantly agree to help out. But, the story does not end there.
I stopped by his house, not having seen him for several months, and knocked on the door. He opened the door and invited me inside. It was a home that had seen better days. As I stepped in and prepared to collect the chess equipment we would take to the school that afternoon, he said, “Come here to the demonstration board. I want to show you a position that I will teach today.” He stepped over to the demo board and I followed. At that point I noticed he had his eyes about one inch from the board reviewing the position. I was shocked. He was nearly blind, and yet he insisted on teaching these kids in a school setting.
I realized then that my dedication to scholastic chess was a small contribution in comparison to this man’s continued dedication. To this day I have said to others, that if I could do even 10% of what Mr. Morrison could do, then I would be a success. He passed in August, 1983, but he is certainly my Chess Hero.