Kevin Morrissey Has Died

Kevin MorrisseyThis morning, shortly after 11:00, my friend and boss Kevin Morrissey took his own life at the coal tower. He left his apartment, walked down Water Street and called the police to report a shooting at the coal tower, a shooting that actually came shortly thereafter. A lifetime of grappling with depression combined with recent stresses proved too much for him. He was the managing editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review at the University of Virginia since 2003. Kevin was dogged at his work, meticulous in his detail, and one of the finest human beings I’ve had the privilege to know. Survived by his father, sister, and brothers, he was was 52 years old.

71 thoughts on “Kevin Morrissey Has Died”

  1. I understand that this doesn’t really meet the standard of what I write about here, but it’s my blog, and this is a small thing that I can do for somebody who was important to me.

    He would, incidentally, be terribly embarrassed by this. And I’m OK with that.

  2. Its your house Waldo, you do get to make the rules. Sounds like he did it the right way, if such a thing can be said. Made the decisions, and put his will, ID, and note of explanation by his side and then completed his decision in a very final way. Cannot say I agree with suicide, but I suspect that until one has walked in the shoes of depression for a lifetime it an easy, trite thing for me to pontificate upon.

  3. Region Ten does have a 24hr. hotline for emergency services, including those considering suicide.

    the number is 972-1800

  4. Waldo, this is very sad news. I’m so sorry he was in such pain, and hope his family and friends will have support in dealing with this.

  5. I’ve been staring at the screen for a long time, struggling to come up with something wise and consoling to say, but I’ve got nothing. I met Kevin only a couple of times, and I’m terribly sad for his family and friends. Waldo, I’m glad you shared this here and gave us all an opportunity to say how sorry we are.

  6. I’m without adequate words, other than my sincer condolences for you, for those you work with, and for those who knew Kevin. My heart goes out to you.

  7. Kevin was one of the brightest, wittiest and caring persons I’ve ever known. Our paths intersected in Madison, WI, where Kevin was managing an independent bookstore. It seemed like he just wanted life to be less difficult–the constant struggle with depression drained him, even then.
    More recently, our contact had been less frequent, something I will always regret. I hope you find peace wherever you are Kevin–you will be missed by those who knew the pleasure of your unique friendship.

  8. To the family and extended family. There are no words only one comes to mind, Love!

  9. My heart-felt sympathies for his family and the staff at the Virginia Quarterly Review, a wonderful publication.

    May his soul find the peace he did not know here on earth.

    Maureen (Arlington, VA)

  10. All of us at the Minnesota Historical Society Press are very sorry to hear this news. Kevin was instrumental in the growth of our Press and, as you say, Waldo, dogged at his work. Thank you for sharing this difficult news. Our sympathies to you and the staff at VQR.

  11. This is devastating news. Kevin was a good friend when we both lived in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. We spent considerable time jawing on literature and music and every other oddball topic that might arise. He introduced me to the Louvin Brothers and added the phrase “sacred steel” to my vocabulary. As Bill Lundgren notes above, he was indeed bright, witty, and caring. I will miss him tremendously.

  12. I worked with Kevin many years ago in Seattle. He could be the nicest, kindest person and then go the other way if in a depression. I will always remember the good things though. Over the years I had the chance to meet up with Kevin a few times and will remember how happy he was about 3 years ago when we had dinner together. My sympathy for his friends and his family. I hope you are in a better place Kevin.

  13. Waldo,

    I am so sorry to hear this. Though I corresponded with him only a few times, I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and obvious pride in the quality of the publication. Our thoughts are with you.

  14. I worked with Kevin for several years in St. Paul, where he was marketing manager at the Minnesota Historical Society Press. He transformed our marketing office and made a huge contribution to our growth. He was witty, well read, and a breathtakingly hard worker (he used work to medicate his depression). He could talk cooking and books and politics–and he had a great publishing head, which he used to good effect at launch meetings. I’m glad I got to work with him, I’m sad he made this choice, and I wish the best to you, Waldo, and to his other collegues at VQR. Workplace loss is a tough to begin with, and this is a particular kind of hard.

  15. I’ve known Kevin for years and worked with him first, as a contract publicist while he was at MHSP, and more when I became Publishers Weekly’s midwest correspondent. He would call me up with story ideas and tips all the time. And his ideas and tips weren’t just about MHSP books, they were about anything that he thoought useful information to bring to my attention. He made my life easier and I am so sorry that he was in such pain that he would end his life. RIP, Kevin. And thanks.

  16. I, too, knew Kevin at MHS Press and was consistently impressed by his breadth of knowledge and his innate sense of what makes a good book. He was passionate about work, cooking, music, and reading, and I’m sorry those passions weren’t enough to keep him here. My condolences to his coworkers, friends, and family.

  17. Kevin and I were friends in Madison the second time he lived here in the mid-90’s. As others have said, he was a very bright and funny person who turned me on to cooking, helped re-start my interest in cycling and really, really improved my reading choices.

    My condolences to his coworkers, friends, and family. You will be sorely missed, Kevin.

  18. Thank you for posting on a difficult topic. Kevin was my cousin. The rest of my family looking for any news about what happened. Thank you for providing a venue for people who knew him to post.

    One of my sisters has already found an article quoting you in this blog, and sent it to our emails.

  19. For all who want to know what happened, this is what I have pieced together…First of all, Kevin loved his job as Managing Editor of VQR and was proud of what he had achieved. Despite his competence (or maybe because of it) at his job, Kevin had been the target of a workplace bully for several years. A very sensitive soul since he was a child, Kevin had asked for help from the university to deal with the situation time and time again, to no avail. A week ago, things escalated and he found himself unfairly isolated from the support community of his co-workers without apparent justification. He asked for help again and got it, but it seems to have struck him as too little, too late. Without going into too many details, it seems he felt very alone, and hopeless that things would ever change. And then on Friday morning, the bullying escalated yet again. That seems to have been the turning point.

    Of course I am only speculating on what was going on in his mind, but the sequence of events are clear enough. To the end, Kevin was a thoughtful and considerate, sweet soul who, it seems, simply couldn’t take it anymore. As one who has felt that way myself at times, I can only say, there but for the grace of god go I. I will regret to the end of my days any small way in which I, personally, failed Kevin. But I know in my heart that Kevin has reconnected with his natural joy and innocence, and for that I am grateful. He deserves to be happy wherever he is. Rest in peace, little brother. I miss you already.

  20. It is a shock to read this news about Kevin. He was a remarkable man, meticulous in detail, soaring in his range of interests and knowledge. He brought so much to the literary world (including the wonderful thought of National Book Critics Circle memberships to winners of the VQR Young Reviewers’ Contest. We’ll miss him. Condolences to his colleagues, family and friends…

  21. The rush of Kevin memories continues nearly a full day after hearing this devastating news. What I would like him to know–what I hope that he knew–is how much we valued him as a friend, a colleague, a sounding board, a mentor to young writers and authors, a warrior for good writing and good thinking and good publishing. Kevin Morrissey mattered a lot. He’s left a giant indelible mark on this world. I would like to hear one more band with him, buy him one more beer, and give him one more hug. Alas.

  22. Dear Maria:

    Thank you for sharing these comments. It’s such sad and troubling news to read. In this time of extreme pain, I hope you and your family understand how much Kevin meant to all of us. We loved him, we enjoyed his company, we appreciated his charm and wit – and we knew he hated it when we told him all that.

    In the mid-1990s Kevin and I took two trips together, one to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the other to the slops of Mt. Rainier. Those geographic highs and lows stand in my mind as key moments. In both places, the stars shone like I’ve never seen them before.

    Please know your family is not alone in your grief.

  23. Peace be with you, Kevin, and all your friends and family. You were an amazing person, and so brave in the face of your pain for so long. You are sorely missed, and much loved.

  24. If anyone here has pictures of Kevin that they would like to share, we are putting a slide show together for his memorial on Friday.


  25. I knew Kevin just about a lifetime ago, in Minneapolis. He was a wonderful friend: thoughtful, generous, observant, interested, with an exceedingly sly sense of humor. I’ve always been grateful for all the music he introduced me to. This is hard news, and my thoughts are with his family and friends. Love and thanks to you, Kevin.

  26. Heartfelt condolences to Kevin’s family and friends and the staff at VQR. Thanks, Waldo, for posting this.

  27. I was terribly sad to hear Kevin ended his own life.
    Kevin was my supervisor when he was working at the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It took me a while to find a way to work with him. I had a hard time getting him to give me work to do, but little by little he did. I even got him to smile once in a while. I learned much while working with him and for him. When talking with Kevin, it was evident he was very well read, he knew so much about so many things, with favorites being cooking and music. After a while I knew he was wasn’t happy here. I was very saddened on the day he told me he was leaving to take the job at VQR, but I thought he would be happy out there for at least a while.
    To what depths does one lose their way that even hope is abandoned? Those cursed black holes we find ourselves in, sometimes temporarily, sometimes not. I know he is at peace now.
    My sympathies for his family, co-workers and those of us left behind that got to know him for just a while.

  28. Heidi, if that was meant as a serious question and not just a flip remark: given his personal and professional involvement in the situation, Waldo has said as much as it is appropriate for him to say for now, I imagine. His post here was picked up throughout the national media (LA Times), the blogosphere (MetaFilter), and professional email lists (Association of American University Presses listserv) and has inspired a variety of tributes and condolences. So that’s where he has been, in a real sense.

  29. This is very sad. I did not know Kevin, but I know how much the VQR has grown during his time as managing editor. Sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

  30. To Kevin’s family, friends and ‘family’ at the VQR; I am so sorry for your loss. Draw strength from his spirit, his decency, in the face of a very difficult situation.
    Waldo, thanks for giving people a place to celebrate him.

  31. Waldo, I did not know Kevin, but I did know you and I suspect you would have surrounded yourself with good, decent, wonderful people. I regret your loss. Please accept my sympathies.

  32. I am sorry to hear this. I cannot fathom that grown people still bully people in the workplace, and if this is in fact true then the people working at his office need to get some therapy and work on themselves. I am disgusted everytime I hear about adults acting as children. I am also disappointed if this gentleman was not getting treatment for depression and/or therapy. Suicide is a way for someone to find relief from their painful feelings. If we could only drill it into peoples heads that FEELINGS ARE NOT FACTS. Good luck to the family in dealing with such a sad ending to what sounds like a meaningful life.

  33. I am so sad to learn of Kevin’s suicide. Kevin hired me as a bookseller many years ago, taught me to love many kinds of American music I’d never considered and how to play pool,and fed me with the written word he adored so much. I am so sorry for this world’s loss of Kevin, and the pain he so acutely felt.

  34. Kevin lived next door to us in Charlottesville, and we couldn’t have asked for a more thoughtful neighbor. Although we are very part-time residents, we enjoyed getting to know Kevin, sharing dinner and wifi, and just knowing that he was there. His untimely death is stunning. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

  35. Waldo–thanks for showing our family so much care and concern during this difficult time. It’s comforting to know that Kevin was surrounded by so many people that cared about him. My little brother was gifted both academically and athletically. He was always one of the fastest runners at school and may still hold a few records. I admired his dedication to running and biking, and he introduced me to both sports. Like our sister Maria said above, we miss you already little brother. Give mom a hug and kiss from me.

  36. I will miss Kevin. We worked together at the Minnesota Historical Society and played softball together for a few years before he left for VA. I hope he knows how much we will all miss him, even if we haven’t seen him in some time.

    Rest in peace.

  37. As I type this note, down the hall from Kevin’s former office here at MHS (where he shared the news of his new position and showed me photos of his soon-to-be-home in Virginia, my thoughts go out to all of you who will celebrate Kevin’s life at the memorial today. Cheers to a helpful, knowledgeable, thoughtful colleague. Rest in peace.

  38. Kevin’s memorial and wake were beautiful. It was healing and heartwarming to meet Kevin’s wonderful friends/colleagues and hear their loving and appreciative stories of Kevin. Thanks again to UVA for supporting the family through this incredibly difficult experience and for hosting his memorial.

    Having said that, I would like to turn the conversation to the destructive consequences of unchecked workplace bullying, with this quote from Anna Julia Cooper, in hopes that Ted Genoways might read it and rethink his management style:

    “Bullies are always cowards at heart and may be credited with a pretty safe instinct in scenting their prey.”

    Yes, from what I’ve been reading, Ted chose his prey well. Kevin was extremely competent at his job as Managing Editor and anything but agressive or retaliatory. Everything I’ve heard from his co-workers indicates that he was a sensitive,warm, uplifting, and encouraging supervisor who treated his co-workers with respect and was never condescending. How very threatening to a bully boss.

  39. workplace bullying is most often:

    “repeated, health-harming mistreatment, verbal abuse, or conduct which is threatening, humiliating, intimidating, or sabotage that interferes with work or some combination of the three.”
    Gary and Ruth Namie

    “persistent verbal and nonverbal aggression at work, that includes personal attacks, social ostracism, and a multitude of other painful messages and hostile interactions.”
    Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik

    “systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating or degrading one or more individual that create an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target(s), result in psychological consequences for targets and co-workers, and cost enormous monetary damage to an organization’s bottom line.”
    Catherine Mattice and Karen Garman

    Because it can occur in a variety of contexts and forms, it is also useful to define workplace bullying by the key features that these behaviours possess. Bullying is characterized by (Einarsen, 1999; Keashly & Harvey 2004; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006):

    * Repetition (occurs regularly)
    * Duration (is enduring)
    * Escalation (increasing aggression)
    * Power disparity (the target lacks the power to successfully defend themself).
    * Attributed intent

    the following are the most common tactics used by workplace bullies.
    • Falsely accused someone of “errors” not actually made
    • Discounted the person’s thoughts or feelings in meetings
    • Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow
    • Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence
    • Harshly and constantly criticized having a different standard for the target
    • Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person
    • Singled out and isolated one person from coworkers, either socially or physically
    • Declared target “insubordinate” for failing to follow arbitrary commands

    Never having met Ted but based on recent accounts of his management style and aware of previous court proceedings he was involved in for similar behavior, I think he meets the criteria.

    Hope this encourages others to speak out to Ted’s obvious problem.

  40. Doug and Maria,
    I am truly sorry for your loss. I knew Kevin. Probably not as well as most people. But given the circumstances, I think that we’d all be being fair to him and his memory to acknowledge that—given how things turned out—how could any of us have known him well enough. My memories of him were nothing unique with regards to all the other kind things most of the people in this thread have already mentioned. He was slyly funny and incredibly smart. As someone who dreamed of once having his job (or a job like it at a place like VQR), I knew after meeting and talking to Kevin that this was an impossibility because when it came to all the things he did well, I knew I could never hope to equal his ability (so scratch managing editor of a well respected literary journal off the list of potential career paths!). He once bought my fiancé and I lunch, and—before I left Charlottesville—I had the good fortune of returning the favor, which allowed me one final opportunity to pick his brain about politics and the non-fiction books he was reading at the time. On my shelf, I still have a copy of Blue Blood that he gave me.
    That being said, I feel it should be also stated that the above comments (as well as the countless other posts) is the appropriate public response to a great tragedy. To remember and to honor our friend and family member. I’m sorry to say that your venturing into this space to accept these condolences and then proceeding to lob thinly veiled allusions before progressing to outright accusations is, quite frankly, very upsetting to me.
    As someone who has seriously considered suicide, I can confidently say that existential dread, futility of existence, and loneliness were often at the top of my list of reasons to end my life. My job, or were I happened to be working, was never high on that list. In fact, my job was never on it. If I could have put something on the top of my list that I could have controlled, it would have been were I worked. If I didn’t like a job or my boss, I quit. Even if I liked the job and the boss was a monster, I could always walk away. The sad thing about my life was that these steps were often the only positive ones I could take during particularly long stretches of melancholy and brought with them a sense of optimism that the next place would be better, which sometimes it was.
    My recollection of the VQR office was one of constructive collaboration. Sometimes these collaborations were more the result of argument and disagreement, but I never knew Ted to take anything that Kevin said with the utmost seriousness and consideration. Perhaps this relationship deteriorated. Perhaps over the last few years Ted and Kevin stopped going to lunch together to continue a political conversation as they used to do when I knew them. I do know that “bullying” is, for whatever reason, becoming the popular armchair explanation of suicide (see: South Hadley High School). I don’t know why Kevin did what he did. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that if the “why’s” haven’t kept me up a few nights. What I do know is that suicide is an incredibly personal decision and that rarely has any one cause or reason. It’s going to take more than hurt feelings and wiki-facts to convince me that Kevin hadn’t come to a place and made a decision infinitely more complex that any of us could possibly understand, and one that can’t so easily be reduced to “bully”.
    I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m afraid I can’t sit by and watch as you allow your pain and hurt to be the excuse for taking shots at people and organizations that I like and respect. I think it’s crass that you’ve taken Waldo’s post a made it a vehicle for innuendo and actions which are at best misguided, and at worse bordering on libelous. Since Waldo still works for VQR, it’s exceptionally bad form to put him in the position you have. If you have a problem with Ted, take it to Ted. Don’t use this space as a place to gather “evidence” for some kind of crusade.
    Kevin, wherever he is, is finally at peace. Let’s leave our axes at the door and try to make this a quiet and peaceful place were we can remember and honor him as our friend.

  41. Sean,

    1. It’s a blog with a comments thread. If Waldo had a problem with what I posted, he would have let me know. And my “thinly veiled allusions” were pretty clear, I thought. If Ted considers it libel, he can sue me.
    2. Regardless of what your recollections of VQR are, you don’t know the facts of this situation. Kevin considered it workplace bullying. He sought help for it. It fits all the criteria of workplace bullying and I am not the only one who thinks this, I am just the only one (my family and I, that is) who is able to speak about it now. Minimizing workplace bullying as a “popular armchair explanation of suicide” shows that you know very little about it. Workplace bullying is real, it is clearly devastating, and every other industrialized nation has federal laws against it. That’s like saying sex discrimination is baloney, which was a widely held view until we got laws passed against it and people became more educated about it.
    3. If you knew what I knew, 90% of which I have not posted here, you would not be attacking me, of all people. I’m not using this blog to “gather evidence” but to express my feelings. Whether or not you think me expressing my feelings here is crass is, frankly, not my concern. You’re entitled to your opinion, as am I. I’m not looking for your approval. In any case, when the true story comes out, and it will, you will see what I mean.
    4. I still hope that Ted will consider changing his management style, but I doubt that he will.
    5. My comments are my comments and they don’t put Waldo in any position. And I did take my problem to Ted, first thing Friday. And you can rest assured I am not done taking my problem to Ted, but thanks for the tip.
    6. Kevin is at peace. I, on the other hand, am angry. And you’ve got some nerve to lecture ME about remembering Kevin and honoring his memory.

  42. Sean,
    You and Ted are obviously close. Nice of you to post that for him. Your words or his?

  43. Since Waldo still works for VQR, it’s exceptionally bad form to put him in the position you have.

    Actually, I don’t feel at all uncomfortable as a result of Maria’s comments here (or anybody’s). The fact that I allow a comment to be posted here doesn’t indicate an endorsement of its contents. 35,861 comments have been posted here in the past nine years, and I’ve disagreed with a fair number of them.

  44. Waldo: Good point. Well stated.

    Al: Thanks for the article. That was, I feel, an appropriate response. My goal is not to be Ted or VQR’s cheerleader. My goal was to simply state as an individual who has dark thoughts—even on days when there is nothing but good news (sometimes the best) to report—that rarely am I myself ever able to put into words exactly what makes me think the way I do. What is happening here in Charlottesville is exactly the kind of situation I would hate to result from such an act, and it is the first thing I think of when my mind wanders: the supposition and reduction that can occur when an individual makes a choice that family and friends are left to rack their heads and wring their hearts to understand. Be it a bad marriage. Or something far worse. Something like this. One can drive themselves mad in search and persecution of a catalyst. My goal was simply to urge that pointing the finger reduces the complexity of Kevin’s life and the enormity of the saddening decision he made. And that it was done in this space was very upsetting. But as Waldo states this is his space and if one feels the need to share their thoughts then they should, even when it is in disagreement. To say that Ted was the reason for Kevin’s decision is the same as saying Ted, by simply changing his management style, was the only person who could have stopped Kevin from doing what he did. The only person who could have made Kevin see the world in a different way. And, speaking from an experience, as a man who has a great family who loves him and a fiancé who is my life, such a task is too great for any one individual to take on, regardless of how intimate the relationship, thus making it an unfair burden to brand any one individual—or any individual for that matter with such a responsibility.

  45. First, I will say that my sympathies go out to Kevin’s friends, family, and co-workers. I can not even begin to pretend to understand what any of you are going through. With that being said, I could not be more appalled by the accusations that Kevin’s family members are making on this site. You seem to be blaming Genoways for Kevin’s death. It is my understanding that there was only one person at the coal tower when Kevin shot himself. Genoways did not kill Kevin, if he did he would be in jail right now. Wait for the details to come out after a proper investigation. If I were Genoways I would be slapping you with a libel suit.

  46. @Kathy:

    First of all, I love how the disclaimer “With that being said” apparently opens the door to a complete reversal of one’s supposed position.

    As I said before, if you knew what I know, you would not be attacking me, Kevin’s only sister, who just lost her dear, sweet, sensitive baby brother to a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of workplace bullying.

    WITH THAT BEING SAID, there is so much more to this story than you know, that when you know the truth, you might wish you had the opportunity to retract that “slapping you with a libel suit” remark. If you were Genoways, indeed. If you were Genoways, you would be quaking in your boots.

    And again, I would ask you to kindly refrain from putting words in my mouth. I have never said Ted Genoways killed my brother. I have, in fact, merely asked him to reconsider his management style.

    You might take your own advice, Kathy, and wait for the details to come out after a proper investigation.

  47. I’ve had a few heiny-hole bosses in my time but instead of doing bodily harm to myself, I would surreptitiously look until I found another job and then march in and resign with as little notice as required. That was my payback.

  48. My sympathy to all who cared about Kevin.
    I think that this thread shows both the strength and limits of this type of discussion.
    The strength is that it provides a forum to express heartfelt remembrance and sadness, as in Waldo’s original post.
    The limitation is that the discussion may increase the anger and sorrow of some of the people closest to Kevin. I know that the last time I was directly impacted by a community tragedy, I soon realized that I did better avoiding online discussions, because many of the posters could not imagine my point of view. Perhaps this is just a personal peculiarity of mine but this thread has brought back memories.

  49. @Dahmius,
    That is a perfectly reasonable solution that most people would take. However, since Kevin chose a more desperate and final act, I have made it my mission to see that someone else experiencing workplace bullying might have greater resources, including laws, to save them from a similar fate.

    Thanks for your perspective. I have indeed felt shocked at the way some people are attacking me in the comment threads, but if that is the price I have to pay to open a public discussion about the devastating effect of workplace bullying, so be it. I owe that much to Kevin, whom I failed to protect in life.

  50. Our family has experienced a great loss. This is not something we are trying to pick sides for or against. We believe what Kevin believed and the message he choose to send with his suicide. Enough was enough. It should never happen again. The fact that this is being discussed after his death gives more life to Kevin and his final message.

  51. I just want to respond to something Genoways said in the Chronicle article. I am choosing not to get involved in that comments thread, as there are some posts there that are just unbelievably hateful.

    “Genoways told The Chronicle that the university had already ‘reviewed all the allegations being made against me and found them to be without grounds.'”

    I spoke with the University today to confirm whether or not that was true and have been assured that the review is ongoing and the allegations have most definitely NOT been cleared. The university clearly has their reasons for not commenting on an ongoing review, but I have no such constraints.

Comments are closed.