Athletics Tasmania is saddened by the passing on 20 January of its esteemed Life Member, Rex Morriss.
Few have served their sport so extensively and with such modesty and humility as Rex. Whether as an athlete, technical official or coach his contribution has been as substantial as it was methodical – not surprising perhaps given Rex’s profession as a mathematics teacher.
His career as a senior athlete blossomed with the original University of Tasmania Club for which he won the Tasmanian open triple jump on three consecutive occasions from 1963 to 1965. He later re-joined his original club - Sandy Bay Harriers.
Rex competed well beyond his gold medal winning years, often finding a way to coach and officiate at the same time – always of course within the rules.
Many athletes knew Rex as well from the classroom as at the athletics track. With fellow athlete Ian Stocks, together with Trevor Leo and RJ Buckley he co-authored “Problems for Mathematics A at Higher School Certificate”, the principal text for years 11 and 12 maths in the 1960's and 70s. Fortunately they kindly provided the answers as well!
The merging of these two loves and fields of expertise were no better emphasised when Tasmania in 1972 was asked to provide Athletics Australia’s Scoring Tables and Standards Committee – it was assumed and expected of course that Rex would be one of its three members.
Rex’s quiet achievements have been regularly recognised within the sport – although often received with much reluctance by Rex himself.
When Athletics Tasmania (then the Tasmanian Amateur Athletic Association) established its Merit Award in 1978 Rex was amongst the inaugural recipients - forty years ago already acknowledged for his contribution as an athlete, coach, technical official and club delegate!
When in 2003 Athletics Australia created its Platinum Service Award for technical officials and club administrators, Rex was one of the 35 initial awardees nation-wide.
It’s fair to say that Rex was not known to travel all that much but he was a first choice technical official whenever Australian Championships or National Tour Meets were conducted in Tasmania. It would surely be possible to count on one hand the number of Tasmanian championships meets he missed, but impossible to calculate the number of school and branch competitions at which he raised a flag or raked a pit – both at North Hobart and for the last forty one years at the Domain.
Rex was of course a stickler for the rules and was always keen to learn the rationale whenever the IAAF or AA altered a rule or issued an interpretation. He officiated on so many long and triple jump attempts that with his mathematical background he probably knew every distance achieved without the tape actually being read, but he always ensured it was – and properly so.
Rex was a distinguished and thoroughly prepared coach. He never wanted to be famous in the role – but almost certainly could have been. The closest he allowed it to venture near was when the national fascination with Jack Hale’s emergence as Australia’s fastest ever teenager inevitably asked the question as to who the young man’s guide and mentor was.
Rex was a Level 4 national coach in sprints, hurdles and jumps and became a network coach within the Tasmanian Institute of Sport’s development programs. But he was just as happy and committed helping a young kid at their first training session as he was coaching a national champion.
He was recognised with Athletics Tasmania’s Coach Recognition Award in 2008, as always suggesting that someone else would have been more worthy. He was Athletics South’s “Official of the Year” in 2014.
Many learned that it was a mistake to ask Rex if he minded being nominated for something – for invariably he said no. Hence it was with much secrecy that the nomination citations covering the more than sixty years involvement in his sport were prepared for his Life Memberships of Sandy Bay Harriers (2014), Athletics South (2015) and Athletics Tasmania in 2016.
The actual presentations in each case had to be sprung upon him, for had Rex known it may well have been three of the very rare occasions when he was missing from a major athletic meet in Tasmania.
The Tasmanian Athletics Family will have the opportunity to farewell one of its most dedicated and decorated servants at Rex’s Funeral Service to be held at Turnbull’s, North Hobart on Thursday 25 January at 10.00am.
Rex is survived by his brother, Ian.