It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we announce Rita Morris’s passing on November 11, 2015.
Rita was a cornerstone in Rex Art’s history. Rita began working at Rex Art as a young woman with her husband Mel Morris in the 1950’s after her father, Joseph “Pop” Platt, started the fledgling business in 1950. Rita and Mel’s dedication to Rex were unparalleled. They lived, breathed, and were totally committed to their family’s business. In 1960, “Pop” retired and Mel and Rita took over the reins of the young company. Together they worked extremely hard, building Rex Art into one of the largest independently owned art suppliers in the United States. Rita and Mel were so successful that other art suppliers would regularly visit Rex Art to meet with Mel and Rita to see what they did, and how they did it in an effort to emulate their formula for success. They were pioneers in the art supply industry, and highly respected by their peers.
Rita’s personality was well suited to handle the day to day grind of accounting, billing, and office oversight, while Mel oversaw the “floor,” helping customers, working with employees, and finding the right mix of products for a young and growing Miami artistic environment. Together they were a dynamic duo, each person supporting the other with their unique mix of skills that ultimately forged a family business that would stand the test of time. Rita specifically had an amazing eye for the future and growth, but was always rooted with a conservative approach that kept Rex Art on a solid foundation. No doubt that Rita and Mel saw their share of good times, and enjoyed the fruits of their labor. However, all businesses are regularly challenged, and it was during the tougher times that Rita’s stewardship and skill really shined. Over the course of our history, many of the decisions she made and principals on which she based them, kept Rex Art alive and our family thriving.
In 1977, at the age of 9, I began coming into work at “the store” with my Dad, Aaron Morris. Aaron was Mel and Rita’s only child, and naturally, they wanted him to be a part of their other passion, Rex Art. My dad spent his youth and all his working years with his family at Rex. So it was only natural that his son would of course do the same. I spent every Saturday, and most of my summers from the age of 9 to 16 working at Rex Art. It was during these years of working at Rex that I really saw and understood the value of hard work. It was while working at Rex Art that I really got to know my whole family and Rita. Even though it was tough sometimes, I will always remember those moments fondly.
After returning from the University of Florida in 1993 I began working at Rex again. Things had changed a lot, and many of those changes had impacted our family. The advent of the computer had changed the landscape of art suppliers forever. Gone were the architectural, drafting, advertising, and design customers. All the materials they used to use were no longer required, and instead were replaced by personal computers and printers. By this time Rita and Mel, now in their 60s, were still there working everyday even though they had handed over the reins to my father many years before. Their love and passion for Rex was still as vibrant, and retirement was not something either of them ever entertained. It was also at this time that it was discovered that Mel had entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s. They call Alzheimer’s disease the long goodbye, and this was a very sad time for my family and Rex Art. Mel was a giant of a man. He stood 6′ 4″, and he had this booming voice and loved to laugh. If you didn’t see him, you certainly heard him coming. People loved him and his personality was infectious. To this day I still have people that ask about him. It was tough to watch him slowly disappear every day in the store he loved so much. All the while Rita and Aaron still worked, but took care of Mel personally to the highest degree. They never turned over his care to strangers. Rita was an amazing caregiver to Mel, and never left his side until he met his end in 1999.
After Mel’s passing, Rita once again re-focused herself on Rex Art. While my dad enjoyed running the store, he wanted to help foster the arts in a more direct way. While still at Rex Art, he formed the non-profit Cultural Development Group with his wife, Anna. CDG focuses on supporting the arts and in the early 2000s, he handed the business over to me to carry on for the next generation.
There were lots of changes through the years at Rex. Family, people and business came and went, but there was Rita – steady, constant, dedicated, and always there. It was during these years, that I forged the closest bond to Rita. By 2005 we had moved, and transitioned to just internet business and a custom framing shop run by my sister, Lisa. Rita came with us during the move and worked with me very closely. She was always there for us, and in the same role as she had – looking over the books, keeping a cautious eye, and sharing her wisdom with me and my sister. Of all the years I knew her, I really enjoyed the years I spent with her during 2005 – 2012 the most because I really valued her wisdom, guidance and help the most. By this time she was well into her 70s, and I was always impressed that she was there for me, my sister, and Rex Art. Her dedication to her family never wavered, nor did her dedication to Rex Art. I know there were days where she might not have felt well, or probably didn’t necessarily want to do what she was doing, but she always arrived with a smile and ready to help.
In 2006, Dylan Morris, my sister’s son and the 5th generation, started following in the family footsteps, and began coming to “the store.” Dylan and Rita formed an immediate bond, and I think that it was a very special time for both of them to enjoy each other’s company. One of the best things about a family business are the moments we get to share with each other that normally would not occur in our busy lives. Rita loved to see Dylan, and to be with him during his most formative years. It was certainly a blessing for our family, and I know that Dylan will always remember the wonderful times he spent with his “Nana” at Rex Art.
It was not until 2012, when Rita was in her 80s, that she came to me and told me that she had decided it was time to stop coming into Rex. She let me know that she would always be available to talk about business, but that it was too much for her to focus on it any longer. Now that she is gone, I know that she will be with us every day; that she and Mel are watching us, and the family business they spent their lives building, fostering, and supporting.
It is natural when someone you are close to passes, for you to spend a lot of time reflecting on the moments you shared with them. When I think about Rita, what comes to the forefront is her unwavering dedication, principled decision making, and persistence. I have no doubt that her influence helped shape me into the man I am. I am sure that many of my decisions are based in large part to the advice she provided me, or my observations of her, over the course of many years. I wish that I could thank her one more time for her years of sacrifice, dedication, hard work and guidance that she provided to all of us. Rita and Mel’s legacy have helped many of our family members and thousands of people that have shared in the history of Rex Art.
Of all the wonderful people and family members that I had the pleasure of working with over the course of close to the last 40 years, no one was more dedicated than Rita, and we will miss her greatly. I will always have the utmost respect for her. She was, and always will be, remembered for everything she gave, and everything she did for our family. Her spirit will forever be a part of our company and family. We are all better people for having been fortunate enough to have had her in our lives. Thank you Rita, you will never be forgotten….