Former Douglas County Commissioner Joyce Morgan’s love for her family led her into public service, and friends and family said her desire to help other families live better lives was the driving factor behind her community service.
Morgan died Aug. 28 from complications related to cancer. She was 89.
Morgan served as a county commissioner for 16 years and spent three decades in service to the community.
She arrived in Douglas County as a teenager. Her family was in ranching and timber, so she had an understanding of natural resource issues. But those who knew her agreed it was her love for children that really drove her community service.
Morgan started out volunteering for the parent-teacher association at her children’s school before expanding to other organizations.
Susan Morgan, a former state legislator and county commissioner, is Joyce’s former daughter-in-law. She said Joyce Morgan was instrumental in writing Douglas County’s first land use plan. She was also appointed by the governor to a task force to determine where juvenile detention facilities should be placed across the state and spearheaded the effort to open Douglas County’s first juvenile detention center. She also served as chairwoman of the board of the United Community Action Network and was instrumental in deciding to open the nonprofit campus off Highway 99 in North Roseburg. UCAN’s Joyce Morgan Food Bank on that campus still bears her name.
In 1989, Joyce Morgan became the second woman elected to a Douglas County commissioner seat, Susan Morgan said. She served with the first, Doris Wadsworth, for two years.
Susan Morgan said her mother-in-law was knowledgeable, well-spoken and very good about including people in the process of county government. She said she was a lady who broke through a lot of ceilings.
“At a time when there were not a lot of women in public policy, she was a leader at the county level and the state level. So you can imagine that she’s a tremendous role model for the women in our family,” Susan Morgan said.
Susan Morgan said Joyce Morgan had a vision for the future that was “very inclusive.”
“She worked hard on behalf of the working people of Douglas County, the vulnerable populations of Douglas County, and worked to strengthen and make government systems work for people,” she said.
Mike Fieldman started as director of UCAN while Joyce Morgan was chairwoman of its board. He remembers her as very supportive of services that would help people.
“That was part of her passion and her heart, was wanting to help make people’s lives better,” he said.
Longtime commissioner Doug Robertson, who served with Joyce Morgan the entire time she was a commissioner, recalled that no county business kept her from her ongoing commitment as a volunteer reading with children at school.
Another of her great traits, Robertson said, was her ability to listen to all sides of an issue.
“She was always very open, very friendly, very willing to discuss whatever issue and whatever view. We’ve become so polarized it seems in today’s world, and Joyce was always open to listening to whatever a person may have to stay on the subject, whether they agreed with her or whether they didn’t,” he said.
Perhaps that was because she was close to the center herself. Morgan was a conservative Democrat when first elected to office, but switched to the Republican Party in 2000.
Morgan’s nephew Dick Heard said he thought his aunt changed parties because she just couldn’t take any more after eight years of President Bill Clinton.
It isn’t her politics that Heard remembers most about his aunt, though. It’s how community-minded she was in everything she did.
“She was just a very selfless person. She was extremely strong, but at the same time, everybody’s mom,” he said.
In 2004, neither Morgan’s centrist politics nor her history of community service was enough to keep her in office, as right-wing candidate Marilyn Kittelman defeated her in the Republican primary. Though commissioner positions now are nonpartisan, they were still partisan then. Kittelman served only one term before being defeated in 2008 by Susan Morgan.
By then, Joyce Morgan had retired from public life, returning her focus to her family.
Joyce Morgan was the mother of two, Kip Morgan and Kim Shapro. Kip Morgan spoke to The News-Review on Tuesday from a train. He was heading back home from his daughter’s wedding, and grateful he’d had the chance to say goodbye to his mother before he left for the trip. He said for Joyce Morgan, family came first.
“She loved her children and did everything she could to make their lives better and more wonderful,” he said.
He said it was that love of family, and the desire to make other children’s and families’ lives better that drove her into community service.
“She was very concerned about families and how to make children safe and life safe for everyone, and she worked hard at that. She just happened to become a commissioner while she worked at those family issues,” he said.
So far, no plans have been announced for a public memorial.