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Rosina Corbett Morgan ’41

She was born in 1919 on Ulysses Grant’s birthday to one of Oregon’s most prominent families. The daughter of Henry Ladd Corbett, her mother was the former Gretchen Hoyt, daughter of a philanthropic New York family. Rosina’s grandfather, William Ladd, was mayor of Portland and founder of Oregon’s first bank. Known as Ena to her family, she grew up in a historic home in Dunthorpe.

In 1927 Charles Lindbergh visited Portland to dedicate the airport on Swan Island, and the Corbett family attended the parade. Eight-year-old Rosina disappeared, and following a frantic search, the family spotted her in the parade, walking hand-in-hand with Lindbergh. She had wanted to see who deserved all this attention and had gone to find him. It was emblematic of the curiosity that moved her through life.

When the time came to select a college, Rosina selected Reed, starting in 1937 with a major in general literature.

At Reed, she met her future husband, Howard Morgan ’40. The Corbett family disapproved of the relationship and prevailed upon her to transfer to Radcliffe. Nonetheless the two married in 1940. Howard was called to active duty during World War II and served in the Office of Defense Transportation before being assigned to the Naval Air Transport Service. When the Navy transferred him to Brazil, Rosina moved back to Portland with their two children and re-enrolled at Reed. At the time, she was one of four mothers attending the college, an occurrence rare enough to prompt the Oregonian to feature her in a story. In 1945, she completed her thesis on Stephen Crane with Prof. Victor Chittick [English 1921-48].

Starting in 1948, the couple operated a sheep farm near Monmouth, Oregon. During the 1960s, they divided their time between their home in Portland and a 577-acre cattle ranch in the Deschutes area of central Oregon known as Black Butte Ranch. Howard was elected to the Oregon Legislature, served as chairman of the Oregon Democratic Party, was a public utility commissioner, and was appointed by President Kennedy to the Federal Power Commission. Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, he resigned his position and the couple returned to Oregon, where Howard became secretary-treasurer of the Pioneer Construction Company. Rosina, artistic and inquisitive, was an artist, a weaver, and a board member at the Arts and Crafts Society. She taught at Catlin Gabel School and later served as executive president of its parent-faculty association.

A fierce optimist, having seen the humor and tragedy that is life, she sought beauty in the details. In 1967, the youngest of her four children, Thomas, was killed in a shooting accident. Shortly thereafter, Rosina and Howard sold their house and moved onto a houseboat. “We faced the fact that we were not ever going to farm again, and didn’t want to pretend that we were,” she said. Her husband’s long-dormant longing for the water and boats was given free rein, and they moored their tiny houseboat on a channel of the Willamette River. In the fall of 1971, they purchased a 34-foot Islander sloop and headed out to explore the world.

“Maybe two people in their fifties setting off for the first time in a 34-foot sailboat to explore some of the world is ‘far out,’” she wrote, “but it didn’t seem that way to us. It seemed rather logical.”

The only crew they took with them were their two Welsh corgis, whom Rosina found to be, “rather good, stiff-upper-lip sailors.” For a time they lived as landless water people with oceans of time on their hands. Then in 1982 they bought an old house in Alicante, Spain, that they converted into two apartments. To satisfy their penchant for sailing, they purchased a smaller Dutch boat, suitable for river travel.

When they were ready to move back to the States they wanted to live in a town that had a university where they could walk to the grocery store. McMinnville, Oregon, fit the bill. By the time of her death, Rosina had moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon. Howard, her husband of 72 years, preceded her in death. She is survived by her children, Peter Morgan, Salem, Kate Morgan, Seattle, and Sarah Morgan, Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica; seven grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2016

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