This past week my friend Eugene Morris passed away. Eugene was a Vietnam Veteran who I met ten years ago while producing a documentary called Street Vets that aired on PBS. At the time he was living at the Homeless Veterans Fellowship, a transitional living facility for homeless veterans. It was here that I followed Eugene and a handful of other veterans for a year as they worked to overcome addictions, post traumatic stress and other challenges that had led them to homelessness.
About a year after I'd finished shooting the documentary, Eugene called me one night and asked me to meet him at a homeless shelter. Rough times and a few poor decisions had put Eugene back on the streets. The Eugene I spoke with that night looked empty and scared. It was the lowest I'd seen him. However, as we talked, I could tell Eugene knew that wasn't where he belonged.
These last few years it has been amazing to watch Eugene change his life for the better. Eugene went through a drug rehab program in 2011 and hasn't used since. In addition he gave up drinking. And when there were concerns about cancer he also gave up smoking. Now stable, Eugene was able to rent a home in Ogden, Utah where he worked on his artwork, something he has always been passionate about. I have enjoyed visiting him every few months to photograph his new prints. It has been inspirational to watch someone who has hit rock bottom, struggle and work their hardest to rebuild themselves, find new dreams and make those dreams happen.
Terry Schow, former Director of the Utah Department of Veteran's Affairs, and one of Eugene's best friends, organized a memorial service for Eugene this week at the American Legion Post in Ogden, Utah. Eugene has no surviving family, so it was a special experience to meet the small group of people who knew and loved him.
Below I have included a few photographs from the memorial service. Above, you can view the Street Vets documentary that Eugene appeared in. The program was filmed in 2007 and aired on PBS in 2010.