Although Terry Morrissey admits, his impulsiveness has not always led him down the best road in life, it has given him some incredibly unique opportunities.
It’s what’s led the Montréal native to be on the show Hawaii Five-O five times, to sporadically purchase a coffee house in southern California, and to vacation in the Bahamas with one of the most influential men in the world, just two years before this man was assassinated.
In late 1966, Morrissey, who is now a retiree in Langley, was working as a manager at the Hertz Rent A Car in the Bahamas.
“So I sent a telegram to Lyford Cay where he was staying, and said who I was, and that I’d like to put a car at his disposal while he’s on vacation. Two days later his — I call them his henchmen as a joke — said Mr. Kennedy would like to take advantage of your offer. Well, rather than have one of my employees take the car out, I thought, ‘I’m not missing this chance for anything.’”
This meeting, the subject of Morrissey’s fifth book, The Final Dive, turned into four days of vacationing with Kennedy, brother of the late U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and offered the Langley author a rare insider’s look at this elusive family.
Lyford Cay in the 1960s was home to beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, and as a private, gated community on the western end of New Providence Island, was also a favourite spot for the rich and famous. It is still known as one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the world today.
“So I drove out there and met (Kennedy), and you know, for some reason, sometimes you meet someone and there’s something in your personalities where you just have an instant recognition,” Morrissey said.
“It’s a comfortable, relaxed feeling. You don’t have to put on (an act). And that’s what happened when he met me, and shook my hand. And he didn’t send his employee out, he came out.”
The two got to chatting and Morrissey, who was also the president of the spearfishing club at that time, invited Kennedy out for an afternoon of exploring in the waters. He, along with his buddy, Gardner Young, took Kennedy and his two friends — who Morrissey is still confident were actually FBI agents — for two days of fishing, followed by dinner and an evening of nightclubbing.
“I’m going to tell you a bad part about the story, but it’s part of it,” Morrissey said.
“I was going to meet Mr. Kennedy at 8 o’clock the next morning at Lyford Cay and pick him and his friends up, and we were all going to meet. And all I could hear the next morning was, ‘Paging Mr. Morrissey, paging Mr. Morrissey.’
“And I was in this dream, and I kind of came out of it, and I was lying on the floor, with a pillow and a blanket … And all of a sudden it dawned on me that I was supposed to be out at Lyford Cay.
“But see what alcohol does? It robbed me of my intelligence, which I didn’t have much to begin with. So I ran over to the bar, and I answered the phone, and it was Gardner yelling, ‘Terry I thought we were going spearfishing.’ I said, ‘Gardner, call Lyford Cay and tell them I’m running late, I’ll be there 15 minutes.’ So he did, and I drove out there and got Mr. Kennedy, and I didn’t tell him what delayed me. I was only about 20 minutes late, so I was OK.”
What delayed him that time, and many more times in his life, was his addiction to alcohol, one that Morrissey was not able to overcome until years later.
And although he never expressed to Kennedy his internal struggle, it was actually this very experience with Kennedy that Morrissey used as motivation to eventually put the bottle down.
Today, he is proud to say he’s been clean for 41 years.
“You know, when I was doing the Kennedy book, I had trouble, because I was just doing it about my vacation with Bobby Kennedy. I thought it was interesting, but can you use that to help someone?” he said.
“There was one sentence (Kennedy) spoke to me, and I never forgot it. So I wrote (the book) from that perspective. Here’s what I did with Bobby Kennedy, here’s the sentence that he spoke to me that changed my life forever. So I put that part near the back of the book. Then I said to myself, now the book has some value, because if somebody reads this, and they are addicted to alcohol or drugs, they might find an answer in there, as I did. I felt good about it after. Now it’s a worthwhile book.”
Just what that profound sentence was, Morrissey wouldn’t reveal. But he did say it is something he continues to reflect on today.
A true gentleman
For someone like Kennedy, who spent a lifetime in the public eye, Morrissey says he was most surprised that the politician was a “true gentleman.”
“You know what really amazes me, was how conscious he was of other people,” Morrissey said.
“This nightclub we went to was Peanuts Taylors Drumbeat Club, and he said, ‘Terry do you think Peanuts would join us?’
“I said ‘sure,’ so I went backstage when he was finished playing his drums. And he came to the table, Bobby Kennedy discussed with him what it is like living on the island, did he earn a decent living? All personal questions that would point to Peanuts Taylor and other Bahamians and their standard of living.
“He was just genuinely interested in people’s feelings, which was really nice, I liked that.”
Morrissey, too, was the subject of Kennedy’s interest, as Kennedy directed the same types of questions to him.
“One night after a barbecue there at Lyford Cay, I took a walk on the beach and next thing I know, Kennedy’s right behind me,” Morrissey recalled.
“And he said, ‘Terry I just felt like taking a walk and chatting.’ So we chatted about various things. I even said to him, ‘Mr. Kennedy how come a man of your stature — and I may not have used that exact word — would be even interested in talking to me?’
“I said, ‘we’re so different in our lifestyles.’ And he said, ‘Terry, believe it or not, I was thinking the same thing, why would Terry want to spend time with us?’ Isn’t that amazing?”
Following their vacation, Kennedy even took the time to write to the chairman of the board with Hertz expressing his gratitude for Morrissey’s service, and sent a thank you letter to Morrissey as well.
That letter is framed — along with personal, unpublished photos of the group fishing — and can be found hanging in Morrissey’s living room.
“I’ve had a lot of ups and down in my life, and I’m so thankful,” Morrissey said while looking at the photos.
“I told my neighbour, she’s 87-year-old, she’s up a tree picking apples, and she’s pruning. And I was talking to her, and I said, ‘do you know how blessed we are?’ I said, ‘look at us, where we live, our bills are paid, we don’t have a lot of money in the bank, but the bills are paid, we have a few bucks left over, a roof over our head, a warm bed to sleep in.’
“You can’t help but say, almost every day, I am so darn fortunate. It’s just incredible, actually.”
Although The Final Dive just came out this fall, Morrissey is already well on his way to completing his next book, a collection of poetry.
So far he’s written 140 poems, which all follow the theme of “the storms of life and how to overcome them with words of love.”