Remembering Special Agent Melissa Morrow: Fighting the Good Fight, Keeping the Faith
Remarks prepared for delivery.
It’s an honor to be here today to pay tribute to Melissa Morrow—a woman you’ve known for many years as a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a colleague, and the woman I’ve come to learn a lot about over the past few days.
I’ve come to know Melissa better by learning about her life.
A life of service to the FBI and to her country.
A life filled with love and laughter for her friends and family.
A life marked by a longstanding commitment to the people she served, in Washington, D.C., and here at home, in Kansas City.
One of the first things I learned about Melissa is that she was a fighter.
Actually, to be fair, the very first thing I learned about Melissa is that she had a laugh you could hear a mile away. A remarkable number of people have described it as a “cackle.” Melissa’s friend and fellow agent Paige Pinson said that while she and Melissa had the offices furthest away from executive management, every single person down the hall could hear Melissa laugh, every day.
There’s even a story about how she was once laughing so hard that she did a little karate kick and her shoe flew off and hit her supervisor. In our line of work, that’s called assault, but with a not-so-deadly weapon. No one pressed charges, so Melissa walked away free and clear. Now, I understand I wasn’t supposed to tell that particular story, but it paints a great picture of Melissa.
The second thing I learned was that when she wasn’t laughing, she was fighting.
For 23 years, Melissa fought to keep people safe. She fought to put white-collar criminals behind bars.
She supervised the Child Exploitation Task Force in Washington, D.C., working to find and stop people who prey on the most vulnerable among us—our kids. And to her mind, this was rightly some of her most important work.
She almost single-handedly set up one of the FBI’s first mock child abduction exercises in the Alexandria area. She had actors playing parents and neighbors, and she recruited local law enforcement to run through the exercise with everyone.
She took notes about what worked and what didn’t and about what we needed to do differently, and she created the playbook we use for child abduction cases. It was that kind of energy and focus and dedication that gave her the reputation she had. She was an agent’s agent—the agent everyone wanted to work with, the agent everyone wanted to be around.
And in the wake of the September 11th attacks, she stopped everything she was doing to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, for months on end, to investigate the attack on the Pentagon and to recover evidence from the crash site.
She fought for justice for those we lost. She fought to bring peace to their families, and she fought to make sure that what happened that day would never—ever—happen again.
Melissa was also a mentor to the less seasoned agents. She truly enjoyed it. She sought out opportunities to train people, to grow and develop their talents, and to recruit more good people to come work for the FBI.
As Tom noted a moment ago, Melissa was Paige’s training agent when Paige started with the FBI 15 years ago. And according to Paige, everything she is as an agent is a product of Melissa’s guidance and counsel. And as most people here know, Paige returned that kindness by serving as one of Melissa’s caretakers over the past two years, along with Melissa’s sister, Angie.
Melissa loved working in D.C., but she was thrilled to come home to Kansas City—to the place she grew up and to the people she loved best.
She was filled with pride to be keeping her hometown crowd safe from harm, and she took Kansas City’s intellectual property investigations to new heights. It meant the world to her, and that kind of work ethic—that kind of investment in the work you’re doing—exemplified the Bureau at its best, and is all too rare in today’s world.
We couldn’t have asked for a better agent to represent the FBI, and the people of Washington, D.C., and Kansas City couldn’t have asked for a better protector or public servant.
But Melissa wasn’t just a fighter as an agent. She was a fighter as a woman. As her father liked to say, she was hard-headed in every way.
She fought this terrible illness with every fiber of her being. Melissa said that when she finally came to terms with the horrible reality of it all, she had a decision to make, and that decision was to fight it with every ounce of courage and strength she could muster.
That’s easy to say. It’s easy to say you’re going to fight, that you’re going to be strong. But very few people have gone through what Melissa went through, and that kind of strength is incredible.
It takes perseverance. It takes unlimited reserves of energy. It takes an optimism that most of us don’t have on our best days, let alone when we’re fighting for our lives.
And that kind of strength should serve as inspiration to every single FBI employee. It should serve as inspiration to all of us.
In the FBI family, we talk about courage and bravery and selflessness. We talk about the heroism of law enforcement.
But heroism comes in many forms. There’s the heroism of those who rush headlong into peril without a second thought for their own well-being. Because every special agent recognizes that making the choice to be an agent might require the ultimate sacrifice one day for another.
But there’s also a quiet heroism that cannot be discounted. The heroism of the individual who simply does her job with dignity and dedication, with a devotion to service.
Service to her community. Service to her country. Service at all costs—even when the price to be paid comes much later, down the road.
How many of us could have fought through what she did, with that same quiet heroism—the same sense of humor, the same strength of spirit, and the same courage?
Now, remember, this is a woman who, in high school, insisted upon running the 4-by-800-meter relay—with an air cast on her leg—so that her team could qualify for the state finals. That’s two times around the track—in a cast.
And according to her sister Angie, she actually still ran really, really fast. So maybe you aren’t too surprised.
Everyone who knew Melissa will miss her strength, her steadfastness, her energy, and her trademark “cackle.” And we’ll remember her for the legacy she left—one of duty and honor, of courage and compassion, of a life well lived and a job well done.
* * *
Back at FBI Headquarters and in every field office, there is a Hall of Honor, where the names of fallen agents are inscribed.
In time, we will add Melissa’s name to that wall. And when we look up and see it, we will remember her as a dedicated agent, a devoted daughter and sister, and a loving and loyal friend. We will remember her as a committed public servant and a courageous woman.
We will remember her as a fighter.
The apostle Paul, as he approached the end of his life, wrote words some of you will recognize: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished my race; I have kept the faith.”
Paul’s words fit Melissa to a tee. None of us knows how long our race will be. But everyone who knew Melissa knows she fought the good fight, right to the very end.
She finished her race with grace and strength and dignity.
And she kept the faith.
She kept her faith in the work she was doing for the American people.
She kept her faith in her family and her loved ones and her friends—the people who were taking such good care of her and making her laugh on the darkest of days.
And she kept her faith in God, knowing that whatever happened, it was in His hands.
To Melissa’s family, and to her dear friend Paige, we thank you for sharing Melissa with us. Melissa will always be part of the FBI family, just as you are part of our FBI family. And the FBI is better and stronger because of what she gave to all of us.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. It was an honor to be here with all of you.