Nila Vae Lanier Morris

She was born on New Year’s Eve in her family home. The year was 1933, just barely.

Her mother and father, Tricky and Virgie Lanier, bestowed her with an unforgettable double first name, Nila Vae. Singular, elegant, effervescent—it perfectly suited her. “It means follower of God,” she often proclaimed. There was much celebration over her arrival. There has been ever since. For those who knew her well, New Year’s Eve was always mainly Nila Vae’s birthday. She was the last of seven children. The first three died while very young. Then came her older brother Milton, her sister Dorothy Rose and her brother Shelton. They were the third generation of the Lanier clan to occupy land homesteaded in the 1860s in rural Hardee County, Florida. They called it Oak Creek.

A country girl of a kind almost unimaginable today, she grew up in a Cracker-style Florida house with a tin roof, canning shed, smoke house and various barns surrounded by orange groves, woods and pastures filled with cattle and palmettos and cypresses and palm and oak trees. She had two pet goats, Billy and Willy, that pulled her along Lanier Road in a cart. She had a pet racoon she named Coony. After school, she and her brother, Shelton, would walk home and whistle up their horses and go riding bareback for hours.

She was an excellent marksman and as hard a worker as they come. She carried that rugged independent spirit into environments of high sophistication. After earning her registered nursing degree as a teenager, she took a job as the nurse on a luxury train going from Miami to New York City and had an apartment in both Manhattan and Miami. Later she became a stewardess for Pan American airlines and travelled the world. John Wayne once asked her to sit with him during a flight.

Errol Flynn dove underwater and flirtatiously appeared inches from her face in a glamourous pool in South Beach. A race car driver in Europe taught her to drive a Formula One. Offered the opportunity to fly an airplane, she grabbed the wheel. The president of a South American country purchased a champion Tennessee Walker horse for her and had it transported by train from Tennessee to the tiny hamlet of Wauchula, Florida, where most everyone in town gathered at the station to see it unloaded. She would go on to marry Max Folsom Morris and enter a new phase in her life as mother, wife and business partner.

She was a critical part of developing two nationally-known companies with her husband, as well as a mission for children in Latin America she named GLOW, an acronym for God’s Little Ones Worldwide. Her taste was impeccable. Though without formal training, she was an accomplished designer. She crafted a breakfast table made from iron pipes with a glass top that her son’s family uses to this day. She designed two swinging beds joined to each other and to the ceiling by chains that served as her son’s bunk beds when he was a boy. For her daughter, she created a circular bed that doubled as a Merry Go-Round carousel with a little motor so it could slowly rotate.

Aside from being a mother, her number one commitment was to Jesus Christ. She spoke in churches and led classes. A tireless and inventive evangelist, on one occasion when a luggage conveyor belt broke at the Los Angeles International airport and a service man came out to repair it, she struck up a conversation with him while he got down on his knees with his tool belt. Upon she discovering that he was not a Christian, she invited him to become one. “You’re already on your knees,” she pointed out. She was a prayer warrior, walking the little island that was a part of the house where she and her family lived on Lake Butler in Windermere, Florida.

The architect, Nils Schweizer, was the favorite protégé of the great Frank Lloyd Wright. She picked the house long before Schweizer was famous and remained proud the fact all of her life. Nila Vae Lanier Morris was as tenacious as she was charming. Her joy was infectious. As a mother, she set the standard. Her devotion was without limit. Her passion for life peerless. People were drawn to her and thrilled to be around her. Even those who only had a chance encounter for a few minutes. Even when, late in life, she battled with dementia. Her smile, her laugh, all of her remained unique, irreplaceable and precious. What a woman. A Miami Beach yacht was named after her. A business associate from Egypt named his daughter after her, and later a friend of her son’s named his daughter after her. There’s just nothing like Nila Vae. Her husband, Max, called her Choo Choo.

On Tuesday, February 27th, at 7:03 in the morning, she took her last breath and blew the conductor’s whistle and headed for her final destination. There were shouts there in Heaven. How lucky they are to have her. But how quiet, how vacant, it is for those of us who had to bid Nila Vae farewell.

Nila Vae Lanier Morris is survived by two children. Her daughter, Julianne Polaha, and her husband, Kristoffer, and their children Caleb, Micah and Jude, as well as her son, Scott Morris, and his wife, Katie, and their children Lindie and Folsom.

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