Centenarian, WWII veteran Forrest Morphew was kids’ book author, spent 3 decades on sanitary board
Forrest René Morphew, a former longtime Tiburon resident who served on the Richardson Bay Sanitary District board of directors for 35 years, died Sept. 15 of congestive heart failure at the Byron Park Senior Living community in Walnut Creek. He was 101.
Mr. Morphew originally got involved with the board of the sanitary district, which serves northern and western Tiburon and all of Strawberry, while helping to organize the elimination of his neighborhood’s septic tanks in favor of connections to the sewer system, a conversion done at the co
unty’s insistence. He was appointed in 1980 to fill an interim vacancy on the elected board.
He was re-elected to his seat, often running unopposed, seven times before deciding in 2015 to step down from the board.
“Forrest was one of the unsung heroes of Tiburon,” said former sanitary district board member Bruce Abbott. “He was a jewel, and everyone who knew him thought the world of him. He was a substantial person.”
Born in Texarkana, Texas, on July 1, 1919, Mr. Morphew survived the Great Depression after the death of his mother by working on his grandparents’ farm and then moving to California to fight fires with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, and he shipped out in June 1942 aboard the USS San Juan as part of a carrier task group in Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet.
The San Juan engaged in many sea battles, but Mr. Morphew maintained his most harrowing experience was enduring Typhoon Cobra aboard ship in 1944. In the course of three days, the storm sank three of the destroyers in Mr. Morphew’s group and drowned 790 men.
Toward the end of the war, he was rewarded for his service in many battles and campaigns with a lieutenant’s commission. After his active duty, he served 13 years in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Under the G.I. Bill, Mr. Morphew attended San Jose State University after the war before transferring to Stanford University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in petroleum marketing in 1950.
After a stint as a researcher, he went to work for Richfield Oil Co. and moved into research, development and sales. Richfield merged with Atlantic Refining Co. and became known as Atlantic Richfield Co., and later was known simply as Arco.
At the same time, Mr. Morphew pursued a career in real-estate investment, using $5,000 in Navy pay he had squirreled away as a down payment on his first commercial property.
Over time, he parlayed his investment earnings into the purchase of an Arco gas distributorship for Marin. He developed the first round-the-clock credit-card payment system for diesel purchases by commercial customers, which bigger gas companies adopted and took nationwide.
When he retired in 1996, he sold the distributorship to Redwood Oil Co., which owns a chain of stations in Northern California. He also built an oil warehouse in eastern San Rafael, where he owned and developed sections of the commercial property along Kerner Boulevard at one time.
Mr. Morphew and his wife of 62 years, Ephimia, moved to Tiburon in 1966 and raised their three children in town.
Mr. Morphew served on the building committee for the Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Novato, of which his Greek-born wife was a founding member. The church hosts the annual Marin Greek Festival.
As a Greenwood Beach Road resident, he also served as an officer of the Greenwood Beach Homeowners’ Association for many years, doing several turns as president.
In their free time, the Morphews loved writing and self-publishing books on Amazon.
Mr. Morphew had written eight children’s books about insects, including “I Am a Honeybee,” “I Am a Dragonfly” and “Ladybug Enemies,” which he self-published in Kindle editions. He also wrote extensively about his World War II years, including in “The Story of Typhoon Cobra: December 18-20, 1944 on the USS San Juan CL-54,” which is available on Kindle. For the last several years, he had been working on a history of the San Juan. Mrs. Morphew previously wrote a children’s story about a Christmas tree, based on a true story set during the Nazi occupation of Greece, which she too published on Kindle.
In addition to Ephimia Morphew, Mr. Morphew is survived by the couple’s three daughters, Louisa Murray of Alexandria, Va., Donia Gousios of Lafayette, and Melinda Lu of Saratoga, and seven grandchildren: Jordan Murray of Salt Lake City, Ryan Murray of Alexandria, Va., Christopher Gousios of Alameda, Athan Gousios of Lafayette, Nicholas Gousios of Playa del Rey and Brandon Lu and Alexis Lu, both of Saratoga. A sister, Joyce Ross, and a brother, Leon Morphew, predeceased him.
Funeral services were held Sept. 24 at the Nativity of Christ Greek Orthodox Church in Novato.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Morphew’s name may be sent to St. Jude’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.
Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.