1998 Laureates

Giles W. Morrill

Giles Morrill often said he did not feel he'd left home to come to Unicoi County, but that he'd found his home in Unicoi County. The people of Erwin and Unicoi County loved and were loved by Giles Morrill.

From brilliant inventor and visionary entrepreneur to mentor and gentle friend, Giles touched many lives and families in Unicoi County, Hancock County, Pennington Gap, Virginia, and his hometown of Fort Wayne,Indiana.

Giles' parents, Wayne & Olga Morrill had two sons, William and Giles, and a daughter, Caralyn. Giles grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "My father was a genius. He wrote the first scientific approach to designing appliance motors. In 1929 the theory for appliance motors and I were conceived at the same time."

During World War II, at the age of 11, Giles and his brother, William, 13, gained national attention for the operation of a business supplying airplane parts to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Working from the basement of their home, Giles and William produced power cable connectors, a part of the bomb-bay doors of B-17 and B-26 bombers. Three years later the sub-contracting company found out they had children working for them and tried to break the contract. The story hit the press and public support allowed the boys to keep the contract until the war ended.

The Morrill brothers were the youngest entrepreneurs in the country to become subcontractors for the Army Air Force. Soon after the war, Eleanor Roosevelt interviewed Giles about the experience at Radio CityMusic Hall.

In 1950, Giles interrupted his studies at Purdue to serve in the Air Force in Japan and Korea during the Korean Conflict. He returned to Purdue University in 1952, was elected to Eta Kappa Nu honorary society and earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Upon graduation in 1954, Giles joined the family business, Morrill Motors, in the engineering division. He was promoted to operations manager in order to "fix" a problem in the plant. Giles doubled production and his success kept him working in both engineering and operations throughout his career. As business steadily increased, the company began a search to locate another plant site.

Unicoi County's 1961 national campaign to attract industry caught Giles Morrill's eye. He fell in love with the people and the region. Later, Giles would agree to assume the presidency of Morrill Motors on one condition: "That I could stay here."

In 1962, Giles turned a rundown, abandoned school building, and turned it into a thriving factory. This factory was located in an area where no one else would have considered, since it was even without telephone service.

That same year Giles began motor production at Rocky Fork in Erwin, Tennessee, later expanding operations to Shallow Ford and Sneedville. The Tennessee plants now employ over 520 people. Morrill Motors is the second largest domestic producer of appliance motors and is recognized for the quality of its high-efficiency patented design.

In his 43-year career, Giles conceived and developed numerous innovations which have become industry standards. He holds several patents in motor design, motor accessories designs and motor application designs.

Giles brought industry to Erwin, thus gaining incredible loyalty from employees and the community. Morrill Motors employees are known for working into their seventies and eighties, and many represent second and third generations of Morrill Motors families.

In 1997, Morrill Motors celebrated its 50th anniversary and during that same year, Giles was recognized as Unicoi County's Citizen of the Year. "Few people have dedicated so much of their life for the betterment of Erwin and Unicoi County."

One of Giles' most significant contributions is the Morrill Motors Co-op Program for Unicoi High School and Hancock High School students. Approximately 50 students obtained college degrees and many others have benefitted from the program.

Giles' commitment to community was great, but his family was his passion. Giles had six daughters, Mary Lynn, Sharon, B.J., Leisa, Erin, and Katie. Daughters Erin, Katie and Leisa live in Johnson City with Giles' wife and life partner, Jeri. Giles and Jeri have four granddaughters, Abby, Megan, Madison, and Elizabeth.

Giles' professional involvement included election to the Board of Governors of the Tennessee Association of Business, Board of Directors of the Small Motors Manufacturing Association (Giles founded and endowed the Motor School), the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, member of the Chief Executive Network and Economic Policy Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He was past president of the Erwin Civitan Club, a Unicoi County Commissioner, member of the Bank of Tennessee Board, member of the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Board of Control, the Regional Planning Board for Upper East Tennessee, member of the ETSU Foundation and the ETSU College of Industrial Technology curriculum advisory committee.

Giles' community involvement found him an active supporter of the Johnson City Symphony, and Junior Achievement and a founder of Hands On! Museum. He was a 32nd degree mason and a member of the shrine Jericho Temple.

Giles and Jeri were long-time members of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

"Giles was such a presence in the lives of all who knew him. His boundless love, patience, and caring is a model to which all of us could aspire."

"Whenever we asked Dad how he was, he would always say, "I'm the best!" For those who had the privilege of knowing Giles Morrill, we agree.