ChangeMakers: Bill Morris

Legendary Shelby County sheriff, mayor, political figure, and humanitarian William N. (Bill) Morris Jr. recently published his autobiography, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life.” In this episode of our ChangeMakers Podcast, host Jeremy C. Park interviews Bill Morris and talks about everything from Elvis Presley buying him a car to serving as Shelby County Mayor.


The book chronicles Morris’ life and his time in public service, his efforts to promote foreign trade nationally and to bring foreign businesses to Tennessee, his efforts to promote Memphis, and his personal relationship with Elvis Presley. The book also illustrates the foundation of Morris’ success – his devotion to his loving wife, family, and his deep religious roots.

“From the depths of poverty to the heights of state politics, I consider my experience a rich life without riches. I hope my account does not appear to be one of self-pride and ego, but rather a lesson in how to live a great life without the benefit of material wealth,” said Bill Morris in the introduction of his autobiography, “Bill Morris: A Legendary Life.”

As sheriff, Morris took accused Martin Luther King Jr. killer James Earl Ray into custody and is also credited with reforming a once undisciplined and corrupt sheriff’s department. As a four-term mayor, Morris was instrumental in promoting Memphis and Shelby County as America’s Distribution Center as well as the great work of Danny Thomas and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Morris worked to bring foreign trade to the United States and Tennessee with Governors Lamar Alexander and Ned McWherter. His work to promote trade globally earned him a seat on President Ronald Reagan’s International Economic Committee.

As a close friend to Elvis Presley, Morris was one of the few people with personal access to the international superstar and was even gifted a Mercedes 280 SEL from Presley. Morris spent much of his energy promoting Memphis arts and the famous Memphis musical institutions Beale Street and Graceland.

Elected as one the youngest sheriffs in Tennessee history, William N. (Bill) Morris, Jr. transformed the Shelby County Sheriff's Department into one of the most respected law enforcement agencies in the nation. The jail procedures instituted to protect James Earl Ray, after his arrest for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, brought Morris and his staff national acclaim, including a personal recognition from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

From 1978 to 1994, Morris served four terms as Shelby County Mayor. Traveling the globe, he promoted tourism with Memphis In May, Beale Street and Elvis' Graceland. He also sold the concept of Memphis as America's Distribution Center.

After an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Tennessee in 1994, Morris retired from politics. Three years later, his wife, Ann, suffered a major stroke, which began his greatest challenge. For the next 19 years he became devoted to his wife's day-to-day care until her death in 2016.

Learn more / purchase his book online here:

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