About 50 years ago, Bernie Morin, then a new marketing professor in the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, arrived at his office to find an unexpected guest: a tawny ginger cat curled up on his windowsill.
He took the stray home that night to his wife, Barbara, and their three children, who immediately fell in love with the cat they came to call “Pretzel,” for how tightly he curled his tail around his body. Pretzel wandered around Grounds, popped up in Morin’s classes, accompanied the family on beach trips and road trips and lived for 14 more happy years.
Decades later, Pretzel is making another appearance, this time in a children’s book that Barbara Morin wrote in memory of her husband, who died last year after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
The book, “A Cavalier Cat,” will be published Tuesday by Mascot Books.
It’s a tribute not just to Pretzel, but to the Morin family’s love of UVA. Bernie Morin, who retired in 1998, taught in the Commerce School for 34 years, serving as a professor, assistant dean and associate dean, as well as UVA’s associate provost for public service. He was well-known for his commitment to mentoring students and faculty – including establishing a program to recruit transfer students – and for his service in the community, including stints on the Charlottesville School Board and as chair of the board at Madison House.
“He was from humble beginnings himself, and he liked especially to see students from Piedmont and other community colleges in Virginia,” Barbara Morin said, referring to Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville.
Even decades later, their daughter, Annette Imbrogno, recalled, her father continued to write letters to his former students, almost up until his death.
“He told them how he remembered them,” she said. “He loved his students.”
For the Morins, UVA was a family affair. Barbara Morin earned her master’s degree in counselor education from what is now UVA’s Curry School of Education and Human Development. Both Imbrogno and her sister, Jayne Hammond, attended UVA, graduating from the Commerce School in 1981 and 1980, respectively. Their dad handed them their diplomas at graduation.
“That was a special moment,” Imbrogno said.
Though both sisters studied marketing, they did not take their father’s courses, eager to avoid conflicts of interest. Still, they remember hearing him teach down the hall.
“He was very animated,” Hammond said. “You could hear him all the way down the hall, as animated as if he was on stage.”
Four of the Morin’s grandchildren have also attended the University; one, Courtney Hammond, is currently a third-year student. Katie Hammond Young, another grandchild and UVA alumna, helped her grandmother put together and publish “A Cavalier Cat.”
“He had such a love for Charlottesville and UVA, and that trickled down to all of us,” Young said of her grandfather. “Our lives have been shaped by his love for UVA, as we followed in his footsteps.”
Young, who graduated in 2010 and now works for AT&T in Dallas, remembers her grandfather as warm, funny and dedicated to his family and students. He loved trains – even going to auctions to look at or buy favorite models – and never got tired of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello movies. At one of her birthday parties, he dressed up as Elvis, the perfect complement to the disco-themed décor.
“It’s hard to describe someone who means so much to you, and who was such a big part of your life,” Young said. “He made a big impact not only on our family, but also on his students and the University.”
Young and her grandmother hope that “A Cavalier Cat” captures some of that warm, fun-loving spirit. Barbara Morin came up with the idea years ago, often mentioning that she thought Pretzel’s story would make a good children’s book. As her husband’s Parkinson’s disease grew more severe, she and Young decided to make it happen, knowing it would make him happy.
They self-published an early version on Amazon and had it printed as a paper booklet, moving quickly as Bernie Morin’s health grew worse. He saw that version before he died last year. After his death, Young pitched the book to publishers and worked with her grandmother and an illustrator to develop the polished hardback version that debuts Tuesday.
“My grandfather was very excited about the earlier version,” Young said. “Although he isn’t here to see this version, I know he is looking down on us with great joy and excitement.”
In the book, which Barbara Morin wrote and Young edited, Pretzel journeys all over Grounds with his new family, from the offices and classrooms of the Commerce School to the Lawn, Rugby Road and the Corner. The illustrations capture iconic UVA spots like the Rotunda, Beta Bridge and even Mincer’s store, which will sell copies of the book.
“It was a lot of fun working with Mascot Books and with the illustrator to make the pictures come to life. I hope fellow Wahoos love the details of UVA throughout the book,” Young said. “It was a great way to remember my grandfather, and also tell the story of our family’s beginnings in Charlottesville.”
“We became so enmeshed in the University of Virginia, and the cat had his own way of making us feel more connected,” Barbara Morin said.
Her family had not been looking for a cat – Barbara Morin was always more of a dog person and, with three kids, money was tight – but they could not resist Pretzel.
“He found us, is the way I like to put it,” she said.
Barbara Morin – having earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees in education and taught elementary school – hopes that, in addition to sharing her family’s story, the book will spark a love of reading in a new generation of Wahoos. As any good teacher would, she included a few good vocabulary words to challenge her young readers.
“I love children’s literature, and I love to see children learning to read,” she said. “You see the child growing right before your eyes. Reading is so important; I hope this book encourages children to love books.”