Kurt Schwaneman knew him as a loyal neighbor, a person you could trust with telling your problems and count on to pick you up when you were down. I knew him through email only, a pen pal of sorts whose correspondence began in formal fashion before evolving into more personal reflections.
Devoted readers of the Daily Post editorial page will remember him as "the conscience of Gwinnett County" as a fellow letter writer sarcastically called him and as a liberal voice that seemed to fan a thousand flames when it came to issues of the day. The signature "George Morin, Auburn" on a letter almost never failed to elicit a response.
Sometimes that response was childish -- "Who does George Moron think he is?" -- and usually it was pointed, but Morin, who referred to himself as "Georgie Boy" enjoyed the give and take, Schwaneman said.
"He loved that," Schwaneman said of the negative responses Morin's own letters generated. "Then he thought he should be able to continue. He thought there should be an ongoing debate on your editorial page. That's why he was always trying to get you to print more of his letters."
Morin's letters quit coming a a year or so ago, and later Schwaneman informed me of Morin's deteriorating health. I got an email or two from George in the interim telling me how he was doing, but then the correspondence faded. Recently, Morin was taken to California by his sister, Schwaneman said, but he only lasted two weeks there before succumbing to lung cancer on July 21. He was 86.
Schwaneman said he was friends with Morin for more than a decade, living across the street from him in Auburn. He enjoyed hearing Morin's tales -- how he joined the Navy at age 17 and told stories of hunting U-boats, and credits his former neighbor with helping him through his divorce.
"If something in life got you down or upset, you'd go across the street and talk to him and when you left you felt better," said Schwaneman, a construction superintendent who now lives in Dacula. "We pretty much got together every day and talked. He loved to talk about the letters (to the editor) and politics. He thought everything should be a debate, not an argument. He leaned to the left."
"Lean" might be too soft of a word, his rival letter writers would say as Morin's letters were often decried for their liberal stance.
I admit not knowing what to make of George when he first started emailing. But we developed a digital friendship over the years as his requests to run more of his letters slowly transformed into emails telling me about his life and asking about mine. In those emails he showed a distinctive writing style that was both funny and self-depreciating (a native of the Nutmeg State, he sometimes referred to himself as "The darling of the Connecticut shoreline." He also often poked fun at himself by using the voice of his wife Barbara (who passed away about a year ago) for commentary on his actions around the house.
Though I knew George could stir things up with his letters (a personal friend once asked for Morin's home number so he could try to talk some sense into him), I didn't fully appreciate that fact until I searched for his name on the Daily Post website. The entire first page of entries -- more than 10 in all -- are not letters George wrote but letters that cited his name.
There's no doubt those responses thrilled Morin, as did the four letters he had printed in USA Today. But Schwaneman said what really resonated with George during his later years was his interaction with local youngsters.
On two occasions Morin spoke to an American history class at Apalachee High School. Schwaneman went the second time Morin spoke and was amazed by the rapport George had with the students, who showed their appreciation by writing him thank you letters.
"George treated those kids like equals, and they appreciated that," Schwaneman said. "And they appreciated the way he told it like it was. He didn't talk down to them. He really enjoyed talking to them, and (after the talk) he walked around with that shoe box full of letters."
George showed his appreciation by sending a letter (of course) about the experience to the Barrow Journal. In my opinion, that letter better reflects George's personality than those of a political bent he wrote to the Daily Post.
It seems fitting to let George write the conclusion to this column. So here's part of that letter, from June of 2010, telling of his speaking engagement at Apalachee High:
"My only asset and contribution to this arrangement was that I have lived long enough to have been on tap for most of the time these events have been in play. I lived through the great depression, World War II and all the wars to follow up until now. I served in the Navy during WW II. I enlisted at the age of 17 and was honorably discharged at the age of 20.
I remembered enough of the major events, including John Kennedy's assassination in (1963) and the major changes in the political climate throughout the world. I was astounded at the interest shown by the kids and how determined they were to get at the truth and how these events impacted upon their lives and their futures...
For any parents out there who wonder how the kids are handling the pressures of these trying times, breathe easy and count your blessings."
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.