January 23, 2021

John Morello: The End of an Era

When John Morello first set foot on the Mary Washington campus in February 1989, the day was bright and balmy, Ball Circle was abuzz with Frisbees flying, and the campus seemed vibrant.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs John Morello is retiring after over three decades at UMW.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs John Morello is retiring after over three decades at UMW.

It felt right.

Tomorrow, when Morello leaves the UMW campus, his 31 years of career accumulations in tow, it will likely be chilly and cloudy, with no students and few employees in sight.

It will feel right.

No – he’s not being driven out by the pandemic or by pending accreditation reaffirmation. Morello, 72, said he has done everything he could do at Mary Washington, and retirement is the next step. “It’s like an aging athlete,” he said. “You know when it’s time to go.”

But during his more than three decades at UMW, Morello has been a high-scorer who adeptly played multiple positions, and his departure will leave quite a void in the University’s strategic operations. He started out as a speech professor in the English department as well as director of the Mary Washington debate team.

With an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a master’s from Northern Illinois State University, Morello – a native New Yorker who grew up in Virginia – took his first job at James Madison University. While working there and during leave time, he earned a doctorate from Wayne State University. He next landed at Simpson College in Iowa. He held tenured positions at both JMU and Simpson, as well as at Mary Washington.

In 1998, Morello moved into administration with UMW’s Office of Academic Affairs. He eventually became the University’s associate provost, where he’s handled myriad responsibilities, including compiling the course catalog. Previously printed, it’s now completely online. Building out that system was one of many factors that delayed his retirement.

Under ordinary circumstances, the presidential election this fall would have cast Morello in a role he has traditionally played every four years: instructor of a class on communication and the presidential election campaign.

While his areas of academic expertise include presidential political campaign communication strategy and political oratory, Morello said he found the current state of political communication and televised presidential debates too depressing to teach the course one last time.

Morello with Provost Nina Mikhalevsky with a special ukulele given to him by Academic Affairs in honor of his retirement. Commissioned and built by local luthier and UMW adjunct instructor Larry Hinkle, the ukulele was made from materials salvaged from an old piano soundboard as well as wood from a tree grown on Washington Avenue, across from Kenmore Plantation. Learning to play will be another retirement activity.

Morello with Provost Nina Mikhalevsky with a special ukulele given to him by Academic Affairs in honor of his retirement. Commissioned and built by local luthier and UMW adjunct instructor Larry Hinkle, the ukulele was made from materials salvaged from an old piano soundboard as well as wood from a tree grown on Washington Avenue, across from Kenmore Plantation. Learning to play will be another retirement activity.

Many alumni, including current Board of Visitors Rector Heather Crislip, have fond memories of classes he taught. She sang her former professor’s praises at the November Board meeting, noting that Morello is the only person she’s ever met who can recite all the U.S. presidents in order, both forward and backward.

Crislip said the phrase he used to accomplish that feat is one she recites to her own children now: “Train your brain.”

Morello groupies – and by now there are many – nearly universally mention his dry wit and self-depreciating demeanor.

“He comes across as a curmudgeon,” said President Troy Paino, “but he has a humongous heart.” A frequent partner on the golf links, Paino said of Morello: “His work ethic, gift for critical analysis, memory, eye for detail, humor, kindness and commitment to Mary Washington’s students and mission will be impossible to replace.”

No debate about it, the reservoir of Morello’s institutional knowledge will be irreplaceable.

 

Q: What are your retirement plans?
A: Before the pandemic, my wife Tami and I planned to do a lot of traveling. We’re still optimistic. Meanwhile, I have projects around the house. And there’s always golf – the ultimate social-distancing sport.

Q: What will you miss most?
A: Since 1966 (when I entered W&M), my life has revolved around a college campus. I will miss walking on a campus and knowing I am a part of that environment.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A:  I spent a brief and undistinguished time in the Army. I also have a hobby of collecting all of Jimmy Stewart’s movies. I’m about halfway there.

Q: What are your favorite movies?
A:
Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Field of Dreams and most movies with Jimmy Stewart.

Q: What’s your favorite motto?
A: A lot of people know that I’m a fan of quoting lyrics from songs or passages from old movies. But what motivates me most is a golf-related quote: “One shot at a time.” You need to try to focus on the next shot (or task) rather than obsessing about the mistake you may have just made.