JOHN Morris, who has died aged 91, was a pianist, writer and mystic who co-founded the Onaway Trust which supports the world’s indigenous peoples by providing grants to support their cultures, languages and ways of life.
He ran it for nearly 30 years from his bungalow in Shadwell, the commuter-belt village on the north eastern outskirts of Leeds.
In an identical bungalow next door, with a shared garden featuring ponds and fountains, lived the trust’s other founder, the Pilkington Glass heiress Barbara (‘Bobbie’) Pilkington.
Mr Morris and his elder sister Eve were brought up in Mexborough where their father, George, had a building business in which he hoped his son would one day join him.
As a child, however, he had a condition which delayed his development so that at four he was still unable to walk or talk. Following a crisis which terrified his mother Ivy, he made an astonishing recovery, but remained delicate.
Soon he was to be captivated by Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha and had an imaginary friend with whom he had long conversations. In due course the friend transmogrified into a spiritual guide he referred to as “Golden Eagle”.
Meanwhile he had piano lessons and became proficient player of the classics. Not physically or psychologically suited to the building trade, Mr Morris got a job in a Leeds shoe shop, and thereafter the city became his home.
In certain circles he became known for the psychic readings and demonstrations he gave there. At the same time he and Eve, a soprano, gave musical recitals.
In the late 1930s, Mr Morris joined an RAF signals unit at Chicksand Priory, Bedford. During the war he served in Burma and India where he met a guru who encouraged and steered his spiritual development.
After the war, he settled in London and worked in bookshops while giving readings and demonstrations in his home which attracted a devoted following.
In 1947 he joined the staff of the Psychic News as a reporter and investigator, and met the Pilkington sisters Barbara and Cynthia who were involved in spiritualist healing through the Seekers Trust.
It was the start of a friendship with Miss Barbara Pilkington that lasted until her death in 2005.
Mr Morris led 14 of his youthful followers to the Middle East, where he was deeply affected by the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians. At the same time, he detected a new spiritual guide whom he identified as Joseph of Arimathea.
Back in the UK, in 1957 he set up a community of like-minded people in a house in Glastonbury which he was able to purchase with the help of Miss Pilkington who had become his most dedicated supporter.
When Mr Morris conceived the idea of establishing a home for refugees in the Middle East, he again had her support, and in the course of other visits to the region, he was able to do just that – the result being the Bethany Home for crippled Arab refugee children on the Mount of Olives.
In the course of setting it up, he met the late King Hussein of Jordan who agreed to be the home’s patron. It operated for over a decade before being closed down by the Israeli authorities.
His interest now shifted to the plight of America’s indigenous peoples whom he believed he was being guided to help.
In 1966, he moved to Shadwell, Miss Pilkington joining him there to be his next-door neighbour.
He was now making regular trips to the USA, meeting native leaders and becoming involved in their struggles for land and rights. His interest resulted in the creation, in 1974, of the Onaway (“awake” in the Ojibwe language) Trust which gave financial support to grass-roots projects among the indigenous peoples.
Onaway funded many local charities in Yorkshire, for example, Opera North’s outreach programme for disadvantaged and disabled children.
Mr Morris founded the Onaway Magazine, with articles about American-Indian lifestyle and spirituality, editing and printing it at his Shadwell home.
A visitor there was the 24-year-old David Watters who had called to provide a quotation for a replacement photocopier, and after telling him about the charity and offering him sandwiches, Mr Morris said “why don’t you come and work for us?” Mr Watters accepted and became a trainee trust administrator, and when eventually Mr Morris became incapacitated, he took him and the Onaway operation to Pitlochry in Perthshire, where he cared for his mentor until his death. The Onaway Trust continues to have its headquarters there.
As a youngster Mr Morris loved American movies, and the early ones remained his favourites.
Mr Morris – multi-talented and meticulous – was without pretensions. He could be cantankerous, and failings in others earned his unvarnished opinion. On the other hand, this captivating raconteur who loved nature was both generous and deeply compassionate.
His sister Eve died in 2005.