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Community Inn matriarch dies
The hectic pace of running the restaurant seemed a perfect fit for Juanita Morrow.
Friends of Juanita Morrow say she had many enthusiasms: being with family and friends; making quilts; cruising around in the various Mustang convertibles she often bought, then sold; and running Roanoke's Community Inn for nearly 30 years.
According to her son, Mont, another of the things "she probably loved the most was going to Florida."
Every year, Morrow -- who died Saturday of cancer at age 66 -- would travel to Anna Maria Island, Fla., with her husband, Bruce. After their marriage in 1960, they went there annually, and each time they made sure to be photographed on the beach at sunset.
"We always had our sunset pictures," Bruce Morrow said.
Most moments, however, weren't nearly that languid for the energetic Juanita, who was nicknamed "Lightning" by some and "Sam" by others.
"Her daddy wanted a boy," Bruce explained. "He used to pat her mom on the belly and say, 'How you doing, Sam?' And it stuck."
Young Sam grew into an active tomboy who told friends she hoped to become the first female wrestler. That ambition passed, however, and after graduating from Jefferson High School she moved to Lubbock, Texas, to take beautician courses. Upon her return to Roanoke the following year, she met Bruce, the brother of her two best friends.
Before long, she was answering the phones at Bruce's wrecker service, and he had tellingly christened his two tow trucks -- one was "Big Sam" (named for Juanita) and the other was "Big Gert" (named after Juanita's mother, Gertrude Young).
"We've been working together ever since," Bruce Morrow said. "Everything we did, we did together."
An overturned garbage truck on Bent Mountain Road gave Juanita the epiphany that significantly changed their lives.
It was late 1976, Bruce said, and they both struggled in the sun for hours to hoist the heavy truck back up onto solid ground.
"It was just hot and sweaty," he remembered. "She said, 'You're getting out of this.' "
Out they got, and where they went was the Community Inn on Grandin Road Southwest. The Morrows bought the popular bar and restaurant and opened it under their management on the first day of 1977.
"We thought we could get into this for retirement," Bruce Morrow said, chuckling at the memory. "But it's seven days a week."
Still, the pace of running the CI seemed a perfect fit for Juanita, who liked being around people and liked doing things her way.
"You didn't have to wonder what she thought," said Mary Racz, a longtime employee. "She would tell you. Quickly."
Racz said Juanita -- a mother of three who became a grandmother at age 39 and, months ago, a great-grandmother -- screened prospective suitors for her and carefully advised her through her pregnancy.
"I think the thing she liked the most was people around her," said her niece Karen Mayhew.
At the same time, "she loved going," added Debbie LaPrade, also a niece. "She never wasted a minute. She'd never sit down. She filled every minute of her day.
"Juanita was always two weeks ahead on every holiday."
In fact, Mayhew said, her aunt had already planned to prepare the table for Thanksgiving on Saturday.
Two months ago, however, Juanita was diagnosed with lung cancer. She survived an initial bout with the disease in her 50s, and the prognosis this time was reportedly good, too. Bruce said she'd recently begun radiation treatments to shrink a tumor in her chest down to an operable level.
Things were going smoothly, he said -- after a treatment on Nov. 9, Juanita felt well enough to enjoy a manicure and a pedicure -- but her condition worsened in the hours that followed.
"She didn't miss a day's work," Bruce said. "Not until Friday."
On Nov. 11, her health declined even further and Juanita Morrow died as she slept.
"Our lives will never be the same again," Racz said. "Ever."
"We weren't expecting this," Mont Morrow said Tuesday morning.
"She went the way she wanted to go," Bruce Morrow added.
"She sat down in a chair and went to sleep."
Juanita Rose Young Morrow - 1940 -2006