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Published: 2/27/2010

Farr, Toledo friend find visit bittersweet

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jamie Farr presented Greg Morris with a copy of the playbill from a stage production of ‘Tuesdays With Morrie' in Ontario. Jamie Farr presented Greg Morris with a copy of the playbill from a stage production of ‘Tuesdays With Morrie' in Ontario.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Greg Morris had retired to take care of his wife, Barb, who was diagnosed with lung cancer.  They soon learned that her cancer was not nearly as advanced as his. Greg Morris had retired to take care of his wife, Barb, who was diagnosed with lung cancer. They soon learned that her cancer was not nearly as advanced as his.
JEREMY WADSWORTH / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Getting a visit from Jamie Farr is not such a big deal for Greg Morris.

At 76, the retired car salesman has been friends with Jamie - Jameel as he calls him - for 70 years.

The two went to school together at Lagrange Elementary and later at Woodward High School. They grew up in the same north-end neighborhood and shared the kind of experiences you don't forget even when one of you moves to Los Angeles and finds fame and fortune.

"You can't explain why people are friends and why those friendships last, but there certainly is magic in it," Mr. Farr, 75, said of his lifelong friendship with Mr. Morris and other Toledoans he grew up with. "It's just something that you treasure."

Still, when Mr. Farr stopped in and spent the afternoon with Mr. Morris on Tuesday, the visit between the snow-white-haired men was bittersweet.

Diagnosed with lung cancer last summer, Mr. Morris has been told he has just one to four months to live. Surgeons removed 65 percent of one of his lungs, and the disease has taken a toll on his once-full frame.

"He retired to take care of me and then found out that he had it," his wife of 53 years, Barb, said.

Mrs. Morris, a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008, although the family soon learned hers was not nearly as advanced as her husband's turned out to be. Both of them were smokers, she said, though they'd quit 22 years ago.

When Mr. Farr visited the Morrises, he presented his old friend with a playbill from the stage production of Tuesdays with Morrie at the Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ont., where Mr. Farr just wound up a two-month run.

Inside, Mr. Farr had dedicated his performances "to a childhood friend, Gregory Morris, who like Morrie in this play is 'going to live for as long as he has left.'•"

Tuesdays with Morrie tells the story of a 78-year-old college professor dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease and passing on his wisdom about life, living, and friendship to a former student, Mitch Albom, a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.

"Morrie says that when he discovered that he had ALS, he said, 'I could do many things. I could withdraw from the world like many people do or I could live, so I decided to live for as long as I have left,' so I just kind of plucked that out of the play," Mr. Farr said during an interview in Toledo yesterday. "And that's what Gregory is doing. He's seeing people. We had such a wonderful afternoon together, and to be truthful, the play, Tuesdays with Morrie, helped me to deal with that because it is the most difficult thing to see a loved one who you know you may not see again and know what to say."

Mr. Morris still has plenty to say.

Sifting through a scrapbook his daughters put together for him, he points out pictures of himself with buddies through the years, Jameel Farah - as they all knew Mr. Farr - Mike Prephan, Larry Haddad, Tom Baz, Mike Gusses, Sonny Smith, Duane Abbajay.

Mr. Morris said he left high school to join the Navy and when he got home, he hitchhiked to California to see Mr. Farr. He and his wife later lived there for a time.

He sold cars in Manhattan Beach, Calif., including a new Lincoln to his friend Jameel, who was fast becoming the movie star he dreamed he'd be. Back in Toledo, as a salesman for George Ballas for 30 years, Mr. Morris sold some 5,400 cars.

"I counted every one," he said. "I've got all the phone numbers and addresses."

Through the decades, he could count on seeing Mr. Farr a couple times a year. He said Mr. Farr never went Hollywood on him.

"He knew better," Mr. Morris said.

Asked what cemented his friendship with Mr. Farr and the rest, Mr. Morris said off-handedly, "They just wanted me to drive them around. I was the only guy that had a car."

On a more serious note, he said as you get older and your friends go different ways, you might think you don't have time for them. What you learn, he said, is that you need to make time for them. "You go back to the same years with your friends and I'm sorry, but you can't break it up," he said. "You can actually say you love each other."

Mr. Farr, who was in Toledo to narrate a Toledo Symphony performance of Gustav Holst's "The Planets" tonight, said his role as Morrie Schwartz came at a fortuitous time.

While he confessed he's no Morrie - "Morrie didn't like people with money. I love people with money" - Mr. Farr conceded he learned much from his stage role when he went to see Mr. Morris earlier this week.

"When Mitch goes to say good-bye [to Morrie], he says, 'I don't know how to say good-bye,' and Morrie says, 'This is how we say good-bye: Love you,'•" Mr. Farr said.

And how did he say good-bye to Mr. Morris?

"I made sure that he knew I loved him," Mr. Farr said.

Mr. Morris, who tires easily but still loves to tell stories and laugh, recalled his parting words for his old friend, Jameel.

"I told him I hope I'm here the next time he comes," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6129.



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