In Memory of Liz Morton.
It seems so incomplete to simply say that EVB's receptionist, Liz Morton, died last Friday morning from complications related to treating pancreatic cancer, an illness that she did not even realize that she had before Thanksgiving.
That is merely a sentence that describes what happened to her, not who she was, how she lived or all the thousands of lives she touched in 28 years of working at 55 Union Street. And those are the important things that we want to remember now.
To say Liz was one-of-a-kind does not nearly do her justice. To say she was a badass and a sweetheart at the same time was only part of her charm. To try and explain the incredible, wonderful, exquisite soul that was Elizabeth Morton, we'll let those who knew her best tell their stories.
These are just a few of the thousands of Liz stories out there. Please feel free to add yours in the comments below.
Rest in motherfucking peace, Liz. You will be missed more than you could possibly imagine.
I will always remember
• Liz's plumquats, whatever the hell those were.
• The spandex gold glittery tiger stripe dress worn on any given weekday.
• Liz answering calls at the front desk in a very professional manner, and then hissing "Stupid Ass Motherfucker" after hanging up.
• That even Augusten Burroughs remembers her (she was mentioned-anonymously-in one of his essays about his ad days in SF) (maybe in Magical Thinking? Ask Mike Moore.)
• And most importantly, Liz didn't take any shit, she was 100% herself, and she was 100% happy with herself. That was the Liz formula, and it was contagious. You couldn't help but respect and love her, and hope some of that strength and fabulousness rubbed off on you
Anyone who knew Liz was the recipient of her kindness. Unless you were one of those motherfucking squirrels climbing all over the motherfucking fig tree in her backyard, eating HER motherfucking figs. Then, you were the recipient of an ass full of BBs from Liz's BB gun. Liz always defended her figs with a vengeance, because they were meant to be enjoyed by the people she loved. The people she took care of every day. Her friends.
Man, they were delicious figs. We'll miss you, Liz.
I will never forget witnessing her spray a bike messenger with lysol because, in her words, "Motherfucker didn't smell right 'paylay', he didn't smell right".
Outstanding. And that's not even how you pronounce my name!
Liz was a radiant person and such a pleasure to be around. She brightened up everyone's day at 55 Union. We couldn't have been met with a friendlier smile every morning. We adored her and will miss her dearly.
The skillets were spread out on the hungry man trail, a distressed plywood countertop worn from constant use. The fragrance of sausages, bacon, eggs & her special mushroom caps filled the air while Liz was busily scurrying about, her towering form in black spandex and apron preparing her monthly breakfast for all 50 of us.
In the advertising industry that is fraught with change, where people, accounts come and go, Liz was the one constant at 55 Union. As tall and strong as the raw wood beams she was the continuum. More a wise den mother than a receptionist, she witnessed it all. From Ketchum to Chiat/Day, a morph into Cutwater, and then EVB, her tenure was close to 30 years.
With a deft renovation by L.A. based architects Marmol Radziner, the building was brought back to its natural honest beauty exposing its brick and trusses with some graceful curves giving it just a bit of swagger. A fitting stage where upon entry,Liz was proudly poised at the helm. Her distinct individuality, her sweetness, generosity, creativity and candor spoke volumes about the community we aspired to be.
Always perfectly put together she was our elegant protector as well as our warmth. Every Christmas she transformed the lobby into a craft bazaar, her entrepreneurial venture with opulent synthetic fur blankets and an abundance of tapestry pillows. Her monthly breakfasts were greasy reassuring feasts; she could be counted on for peanut brittle or other Trader Joe snacks among her private stash, along with treats for the many dogs who roamed about. She harvested special roses from her garden and made me discreet bouquets. She could be counted on for a pin for a hem and a quick game of pool. She loved who she loved and made no bones about who she didn’t. She was one wise gal.
With her parting, we are all left in shock. This 6’4” lady brought such grace into our lives and none of us were prepared to say goodbye. Since we have all scattered throughout the country if not the world striving to fulfill the capacity of our ambitions, we have suddenly reconnected to share our grief in effort to fill the void. She would love to know how much we loved her, how much we loved each other and our time together.
Thank you dear Liz. May you rest in peace.
I came in early one morning and found Liz pacing back and forth in front of the reception desk.
"Liz, are you okay?"
"I'm just so mad."
"Well some asshole tried to carjack me this morning."
What you need to know is that Liz lived in the East Bay and drove in every morning across the Bay Bridge. Just before the bridge she would swing into a Rideshare lot and pick up any commuters that needed a lift into the city. This allowed her to use the carpool lane and avoid paying the toll.
"You got carjacked? What??"
"So I stopped like I do every morning to pick up some riders. And this asshole gets in my car and pulls a gun on me. On me! He got me so mad. I said "Oh no you don't! Um um um, motherfucker you just picked the wrong lady to mess with."
"What did you do?"
She's laughing a little now as she continues to tell me the story.
"Well what do you think? I reached over and opened my glove compartment and pulled out my gun. You should have seen the look on his face. Boy did he run fast."
"That's crazy Liz. What did you do after he got out of your car?"
She looks at me like it's a silly question.
"Well honey, I just waited a few minutes until a nice couple asked me if I was heading into the city. I just dropped them off over on Broadway."
"You have a gun Liz?"
"Sweetie I live in Oakland!"
I assume that you are aware of Liz's incredible life journey. The thing is she never really spoke about where she "came" from, only where she was going. Towards the end of Cutwater 1.0, she really started to open up to me about her life before San Francisco. I felt honored and special. I guess I had proved myself to her. She also proved herself to me, she was as loyal as they come. Once you were in. You were in. That was it, she loved you. And it felt good.
She lived close by and we would occasionally run into each other at Lake Chabot, doing our Sunday jogs. Or she would pop by to give me some plants from her garden.
I will really miss her. And I will always love her.
I've known Liz for many years and most of the stories I have from her are not fit to print. I got to know all about her years in LA and Hawaii and in San Francisco. Let me tell you.. she lived a life.
She use to tell me about how she knew the late disco superstar Sylvester. She was scared to death of him because his gang 'would always start fighting.' I lived for these stories.
One story that I can tell is about how she was constantly fixing her house. Everyday she would have photos, plans and diagrams of what she was currently doing. You could sometimes hear her on the phone YELLING at her contractors who inevitably would fuck something up. I kept telling her she needed to stop adding on the damn place but she wouldn't listen to me, telling me I was crazy.
I'll miss you Liz!
I think if you talk to anyone about Liz, they will probably tell you how she mothered us with a very salty edge. She didn’t suffer fools, but she had amazing self-control. She’d be accommodating on the phone or in the lobby, but as soon as the call was over or the door was closed, she’d light up the room with expletives, humorously revealing how she truly felt about whatever had just transpired.
She was glorious and mischievous.
She was also incredibly thoughtful and kind. She listened to everything you said, even the little things, and then did what she could to make your life better.
For example, in early October 2006, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. With the blessing and support of my family at Chiat, I spent most of the next few months on the east coast caring for her. I was able to return to the west coast twice before the end of that year to get my own life in order so I could better care for my mother. When I returned on one of those trips in early December, Liz greeted me with a hug and a compassionate ear. I told her everything that was going on. I mentioned that mom was having trouble eating since one of the side-effects of her chemotherapy was burns in her mouth. When I came in the next day, Liz handed me four pages of recipes for soft, mild foods...that she had typed up and put in page protectors...so I could make some good food for my mom and get her eating again.
My mother died twelve weeks after her diagnosis. I returned to work almost immediately after her funeral since I had missed so much work while I was caring for her. Liz asked me about the funeral and I mentioned that my only regret was not being able to line up a Gospel choir. My mother loved Gospel music. When I came into work the next day, my voicemail light was on. I sat down and listened to the sound of a beautiful Gospel song. Liz had gone home and played it on a turntable and held the phone up to the speaker the night before. It was the song that she had played at her own mother’s funeral. I remember walking around to the lobby with tears running down my cheeks and seeing her standing there with outstretched arms.
I will leave you with my favorite Liz-ism. (It is something I still repeat to my friends.) When some of the other single women in the office and I would lament to Liz about how difficult it was to meet men in San Francisco, she would always say this: “Girrrrrl!...you are sitting on a gold mine!” Liz, more than anyone, really understood the power of having a vagina.
Elizabeth Morton was a bright, tenacious, loving person and I feel much richer for having had her in my life.
During my time at Chiat in San Francisco, my office was right next to Liz, which allowed us to become friends over the years. Once, when I asked if she would mind covering herself in fake blood and pretending to be murdered for a video we were making, she said: “Ooooooooh, you sick little mother fucker. You want to kill me!”
I told her that couldn’t be further from the truth, that she was too great of a person, and that I knew the world would be a much less fun and interesting place without her in it.
She looked back at me, considered the compliment, then said “Well, you’re still a sick little mother fucker. But you can cover me with blood as long as it doesn’t get all over this blouse.”
She was one of a kind. And I was right - the world is a much less fun and interesting place without her in it.
My grandmother passed away the day after Christmas this year. Our family is small but tight-knit, and being together around the holidays helped us come to grips with her absence in our own quiet, private way.
There’s something so cathartic and reassuring about being able to mourn together, to share in the memory of someone who was such a dear part of our lives.
Liz Morton’s family was anything but small. She was a people magnet, drawing friends and admirers in from across cities, decades and walks of life. To know Liz was to be adopted by her, and to be a stronger more caring person for it.
When Liz died just a few days later, the public outpouring of love, sorrow, and fond memories was nothing short of incredible. The messages came from co-workers past and present, former building residents, frequent visitors, and delivery guys. EVB started an email thread of our favorite Liz quotes that crushed our email server and fried its profanity filter. After a single post by our CEO about her passing, 45 people chimed in to share their sympathies, stories, and tributes.
She brought us all together from across those decades. This time it wasn’t for a birthday party she organized or a meal she spent all weekend making, but to take part in celebrating that ageless, irresistible spirit that was so uniquely hers. To say goodbye to the woman who had done four decades worth of watching over her family from her post at the front desk. At 55 Union, the building modeled after a ship, she was the anchor.
Liz, you are truly missed.
That's the word that reminds me most of our dear Liz.
She owned that word. More than any other, except maybe, asshole. She liked that one too.