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James C. Morant, a four-decade federal employee who had a second career as a writer and actor, dies

James C. Morant was a much sought-after jazz vocalist.
James C. Morant was a much sought-after jazz vocalist.

James C. Morant, a retired senior adviser for the Environmental Protection Agency’s International Organizations Program who developed a second career as a writer and actor, died Saturday of a stroke at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington. The Ednor Gardens resident was 71.

“I loved him. He lived in my district and we talked on a regular basis,” Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said. “He was exceptionally wise on the issues facing the city as a whole. He stood out. He was a major adviser to me and others. You knew he was special the moment you met him.”

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“As a person, James was a thoughtful and excellent writer," said Patrick Henderson, host of “Patrick Henderson’s Meet the People,” a weekly radio show on Radio One’s WOLB and Spirit 1400. "He had a way of writing that made readers feel as though they were having a personal conversation with him. He loved God with all of his heart and was a very caring person.”

James Cornelius Morant, the son of James Morant, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker, and his wife, Lottie Morant, a housekeeper, was born and raised in East Baltimore. He was a 1966 graduate of Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1970 from Morgan State University.

Mr. Morant began his nearly four-decade federal career in 1970 — serving under Presidents Richard M. Nixon to Barack Obama — when he joined the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Department of Health and Human Services, working on domestic policy and global issues.

In the 1980s joined the EPA, where he rose to become a top-level adviser to the administrator and assistant administrator on a wide range of international programs and organizational issues.

He coordinated the agency’s involvement in major multilateral international programs such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Environment Program, Group of 8 (G-8) interactions, and as a “conduit for information and advice to the EPA administrator or deputy administrator and top staffs in the White House and other federal agencies and non-government stakeholders,” according to a biographical profile submitted to The Baltimore Sun by Mr. Morant’s family.

Mr. Morant played a significant role in “high-level negotiations connected with G-8 environmental meetings in Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, and France, and staffed EPA involvement in the United Nations Environment Program, Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environmental Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, and led teams to advance U.S. policy goals in numerous bilateral meetings during his tenure in federal service,” according to the profile.

Mr. Morant brought the same enthusiasm he had in his professional career to his passion for making things better for Baltimore and its residents.

After retiring in 2009, Mr. Morant served a chairman of Faith in Water, a United Kingdom-based charity that provides access to clean water, sanitation, and health to impoverished countries, and as vice chairman of the board of Generations Family Services, a Baltimore based nonprofit which provides low-cost or free mental health and family counseling to the poorest residents and neighborhoods in the city.

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“He was such a booster for Baltimore City and actively participated in everything. He loved Ednor Gardens and the Lakeside community," Ms. Clarke said. “He relished life in Baltimore. He thought about it all the time.”

He was the author of a highly acclaimed diary and memoir, “Social Media and Me: A Fossil’s Tale,” published by Keith Publications, which chronicled his six-year experience with the use and weaponization of Facebook and other social media platforms, which reached No. 3 on Amazon.com in 2017, family members said.

“I particularly loved James’ recollections on the March on Washington in which I could see the adult who had already taken shape in that eager 14-year-old boy in those long ago days of August 1963,” Laura E. Kennedy, a retired career U.S. diplomat, colleague, and longtime friend, wrote in a review.

“There is real artistry and poignancy in that memory of both the passion of the cause set against the tapestry of every day life,” she wrote. “This book is a fascinating look at how we find new ways to communicate but the real essence for me is in its portrait of a big soul responding to — and shaping — a nation itself still painfully grappling with racism and political and social division.”

He had compiled an unpublished anthology on workplace issues, which he titled “In Search of the Albino Gorilla: Confessions of a Black Bureaucrat.”

While playing pinochle one day with friends in Turner Station, an African American neighborhood in southeastern Baltimore County, it occurred to him that “there were many stories in that room,” said his wife of 37 years, the former Barbara Lewis, a city public school educator who retired after 41 years of teaching in 2010.

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“He was gathering notes and researching a book, which he called ‘The Room,’ because there were lots of stories in that room. It was about the African Americans who had fought in World War II and then came back and faced discrimination,” Mrs. Morant said.

“I became a big fan of his writing through Facebook,” said Mr. Henderson, who is also a composer and producer. "He called his columns ‘rants.’ "

Mr. Morant, a tenor, was an active member of New Psalmist Baptist Church, where he sang with its choir.

One day, he saw an advertisement for an audition for a theater production, and while he had no prior acting experience, decided he’d give it a try. “He said, ‘I’m retired now and can do anything I want,’ ” his wife recalled. “He wasn’t afraid to try anything.”

Mr. Morant landed the role of the “charismatic preacher, the Rev. Randolph A. Winter, in the highly acclaimed off-Broadway musical ‘Mama I Want to Sing,’ in New York,” according to the biographical profile.

He later performed as Bishop Theodore Allgood in the London production of “Tell Hell I Ain’t Comin,” and the brooding father in the Chicago production of “The Family Mantle.” Other roles included the wedding preacher in the National Stage Production of “Ain’t No Love Like a Mother’s Love,” the idiosyncratic choir director Jennings in the Baltimore debut of "DisChord in the Choir,' and the featured “choir vocalist” in Center Stage’s production of “The Christians.”

He was also a much sought-after jazz vocalist and performed at jazz events in France, Spain, Switzerland, England and Mexico.

“He wrote a special composition which he performed in its debut at Windsor Castle before His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, and then-United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon,” according to the profile.

In 2018, he sang at the International Boogie Woogie Festival in France.

“He was still performing and was in London Dec. 1,” his wife said. “He was supposed to go to Paris but didn’t because of the strikes.”

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Said Mr. Henderson: “I’m a composer and I had found out that he had been singing my music in churches for decades, and then I wanted to get him to become co-anchor of my radio show. On air, he was bright and so talented and people fell in love with his personality. He started as co-anchor in 2019.”

“James lived life to the fullest and he brought us into it,” Ms. Clarke said.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at his church, 6020 Marian Drive, Lochearn.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Morant is survived by a son, James E. Morant of Baltimore; a daughter, April R. Morant of Greenbelt; and a granddaughter.

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