Morris Andrews, whose vision catapulted the Wisconsin Education Association Council into becoming one of the nation’s leading teachers’ unions, died on Oct. 10, 2019, at UW Hospital in Madison from complications of cancer and a stroke. He was 83.
Andrews was born in Big Rapids, Michigan on Nov. 26, 1935. He graduated from Big Rapids High School after a distinguished football career that ultimately led to him being inducted into the Mecosta County Sports Hall of Fame. He went on to play football at Central Michigan University, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education. He later earned a Master’s degree in Physical Education from Indiana University.
After graduate school, Morris spent a number of years honing his skills teaching high school government, coaching high school football and organizing teachers throughout the country. In 1972, he came to Wisconsin to serve as executive secretary of WEAC. His impact was immediate and widely felt. Under his leadership, WEAC became one of Wisconsin’s most powerful political forces. By the time he retired in 1992, WEAC was ensconced in Wisconsin’s political landscape at both the state and local levels. Teacher salaries and benefits rose steadily under his tenure. More importantly in Andrews’ estimation, Wisconsin school aid and student test scores and graduation rates rose to be among the highest in the nation. Andrews noted at the time: “Our best state assets for job creation are public education and the well-trained work force. We must protect that great resource.” He absolutely believed that paying teachers well attracted the best and brightest to the profession. This, in turn, contributed to greater student achievement and led to more effective and committed civic involvement. Strong public education, in his view, was the backbone of American democracy.
Andrews was not afraid to be direct or even confrontational when necessary, but fellow colleagues also noted he was a pragmatist who understood the art and value of compromise. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson summed it up best: “You knew where he stood, he never deviated…he stuck up for his constituents, the teachers of the state of Wisconsin, like nobody before or after…“
After health issues in the early 1990’s prompted him to retire from WEAC, Andrews embarked on a second career as a political advisor and consultant. He worked on campaigns for Democrats and Republicans alike, provided he respected their intellect and passion for public service. Andrews, the master of forming unlikely coalitions, continued to work on education issues long after leaving WEAC, often persuading groups such as realtors, farmers, and law enforcement officers that strong schools made for a stronger society and economy. Andrews also served on the Board of the Urban League of Greater Madison and consulted on community efforts such as Fair Wisconsin, and the campaign to build the Monona Terrace in the city of Madison.
To an outside observer, Andrews was a political force of nature, changing the face of education in Wisconsin and impacting multiple generations of teachers and students. This was not how Morris defined himself, however, and it was only a small part of what his family valued in him. To his family and close friends, he was a trusted confidante, a voice of reason and support, and a fiercely loyal advocate. Loving and caring for his family was his number one job. From nearly daily phone calls to his brother and his children, to advising his grandchildren, nieces and nephews, to dedicating his final years to supporting the career of his wife, Kris, Morris left no doubt where he placed his priorities.
Kris was the love of his life, and he was deeply devoted to her and their life together. His grandchildren remember competitive games of euchre with family and friends and many conversations about his efforts to trace his family tree back generations. He taught his daughter to enjoy fine California wines, and his son and grandchildren to cheer for the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Brewers. One of his greatest pleasures, after Kris surprised him with a dog, was walking with his beloved Buddy. Morris often said that “the ups and downs of life make a life,” and he wanted to make sure that all would know his chosen epitaph was “I hope I made a difference.” To his family and the great state of Wisconsin, he certainly did.
Morris is survived by his wife of 25 years, Kris Andrews; his children Christine (Katie) Andrews and Michael (Dina) Andrews; and his grandchildren Khadija, Jelani, Jasmine, Abby and Ella Andrews. He is further survived by his brother, Bob Andrews; his cousin Ken Jones; his mother-in-law Joyce Deininger; sisters-in-law Joan (Ricky) Waniger and Lisa (Eric) Nelson; former wives Patricia Lehman and Sharon Chamberlain; and several nieces, nephews and godsons. He was preceded in death by his father and mother, Ivan and Bessie Andrews, his sister Kay Andrews and his father-in-law Forrest Deininger.
A Celebration of Morris’ Life will be held at Monona Terrace on Sunday, November 3rd. A reception will begin at 12:00 pm, followed by a program at 1:30 pm. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Morris are invited to contribute to the Morris Andrews Memorial Fund established to support scholarships for aspiring teachers and organizations addressing child poverty. Donations will be accepted online at www.madisongives.org/Morris
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