Morris brothers’ mystery remains unsolved
There was a cruel divide in Ollie and Ted Morris’s family. To be born a boy was to be born with an intellectual disability.
The cause of the disability that affected each of their four sons and none of their five daughters remains a mystery after nearly 90 years.
The Gisborne couple’s eldest son Donald, born in 1932, was the first to be affected. Then it affected brothers John, Peter and Rex.
Sister Yvonne Sutton says their mother Olive, who married Ted, a farmer, feared the worst every time she gave birth. “Every time she had a boy, she knew what was happening,” she says.
The Morris brothers were born in a time when families often had no diagnosis for their disabled child. In those early days, support for the Morris brothers came from IHC and from the community. That has continued throughout their lives.
John celebrated his 80th birthday in October with his younger brothers Peter, 78, and Rex, 75, and the wider family. John and Peter live in an IDEA Services residence and Rex is supported to live independently.
Ollie and Ted became involved in IHC and Ollie worked with Min Sutton to set up a Gisborne branch in 1951 – only two years after IHC started. In 1953, by the time Donald was 21, there was a vocational centre operating out of a garage in town for young people who had left school.
The family now understands that the brothers are affected by a deficit on the X chromosome, but cytogenetic testing in 2004 ruled out Fragile X and there has been no alternative diagnosis. “It’s obviously in the male line,” says their sister Judy Mackintosh.
What’s even more of a mystery is that it has not turned up in the next generation. “It started with Mum and Dad and finished with Mum and Dad,” Judy says.
Donald went to school up to Standard 2 and learned to read and write. His life was cut short in 1966. He drowned during a church picnic at Morere Hot Springs, at the age of 34.
“Rex is in Supported Living. He can’t read and he can’t write. He worked for nearly 30 years at Furniture Court. They have all had jobs. Peter used to clean the red buses. He worked at Sandown [Park Hotel] and he used to mow the lawns. John was working for a short time in a glass place.”
In 1987 the three surviving brothers moved into IDEA Services residential care when Ted and Ollie were unable to carry on supporting them. Ted died in 1992, aged 85, and Ollie in 2004, aged 96.
The family is still involved with IHC. Alan Mackintosh, husband of Judy, has served as Gisborne Branch President and Chair of the IHC Gisborne Association.
Above: John Morris (left) has just celebrated his 80th birthday with family and friends. He’s pictured here with younger brothers Peter and Rex.
This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members.
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