by Piper Gray '04
Years after her own graduation in 1983, Brandon Garrott Morrison is clear-eyed about what makes her long-standing relationship with St. Mary’s so special. It’s not just one thing, of course.
It’s not just the traditions and memories, many of which are still likely and palpably familiar to her fellow alums: elaborate dance productions and participating in the Christmas pageant, student-teaching as a teenager for the third graders, learning that the new school mascot was changing to a turkey, or the lifelong friendships forged with girls she sat side by side since kindergarten.
It’s not just her familial ties either, although those deepen the affiliation: her daughters Allie Morrison ’08, Ruthie Morrison Vaughan ’09, and Jane Morrison ’15 all graduated from St. Mary’s, as did her sister and niece. Morrison can also recount that her brother was one of the few boys who attended the school during its brief period of co-education.
But as anyone who listened to the 2023 Outstanding Alumna’s Chapel talk during Alumnae Weekend recalls, what makes St. Mary’s such a distinctive place is how, as Morrison believes, it supports the students’ individual potential and teaches them how to honor and exercise their freedoms. St. Mary’s encourages a strong work ethic, but here girls also learn, as she did, that “it’s the little things. We have the choice whether to hurt somebody’s freedoms or not.”
“As I got older and had my own children, I began to reflect on what I want their children to experience,” she says. “It’s not just being the smartest, most brilliant doctor, but being kind, and the value system that comes along with that.” She chalks this belief up to her firm Christian faith. She also saw it mirrored daily at school by faculty—teachers who left a memorable impact like Mrs. Judy Morgan, who instilled a love of French, and Mrs. Faith Leonard, who energized her natural inclination for numbers.
Remarkably, the quote Morrison selected to accompany her senior portrait in the Carillon perfectly captured this belief and is almost prescient about her entrée into local politics as a member of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.
Choosing a senior quote has always been a weighted endeavor for any future 12th grader. Still, Morrison remembers approaching it with a particular thoughtfulness and focus, sitting on her bedroom floor and dutifully searching for something that “expressed her hope to find her place in the world.” The quote, attributed to an Anglican priest, remains admittedly resonant: “We are too fond of our own will. We want to be doing what we fancy mighty things, but the great point is to do small things, when called to them, in a right spirit.”
“It just resonated with me because I am the strong-willed type, and sometimes my personality type struggles with control,” she laughs, “but in public service, I have realized that there is very little I can control or change.”
After raising her five children and participating in countless organizations and boards throughout the city and beyond, Morrison started considering how to be more meaningfully involved in the Memphis community. In 2018, she began serving on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, successfully earning reelection in 2022.
Running for office and getting involved with local government was perhaps not the most natural next step for Morrison. “I didn’t take a single political science class,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if it was a calling, but I wanted to see if I could make a difference in some way. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you are, but you must live one day at a time.”
Public service is a daily bid to connect with colleagues and reach an effective strategy. It’s also where the promise of progress often diminishes under difficult collaborations or stalls due to other unforeseen hiccups. However, Morrison remains invigorated by Memphis’s potential and the attendant challenges to help communities across town. Improving the livelihood of a city’s worth of residents sounds daunting, but “again, it’s starting small.” Morrison understands that sweeping changes and progress don’t always coincide with grand actions.
“If we build stronger streets, stronger homes, stronger neighborhoods, we have a stronger city,” said Morrison.
Just as Morrison reminded the students in Chapel, she knows that every day is filled with small moments and bigger opportunities to exercise our freedoms and satisfy our own will, potentially at the expense of others.
St. Mary’s is where Morrison learned to act with kindness and discipline and to face failure with integrity and faith. St. Mary’s is where she learned that “what we practice moment by moment matters.”
Piper Gray ’04 is a freelance writer, editor, and brand consultant newly based in New Orleans after many years in New York City. She has a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and Spanish from Furman University.