Shelley Elinor Morss. Courtesy photo

The Activist and the Eagle

By Beth Herman

Longtime Concordian Shelley Elinor Morss had a very public relationship with Eagles founder and band member Don Henley — a business relationship, that is. 

Morss, who passed away at age 90 on April 25, teamed up with Henley to preserve Walden Woods, launching a national campaign that ultimately preserved the 2,000-acre site. The historical landmark was poised to succumb to developers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, something Shelley could not abide. 

Enter Henley.

“She was absolutely in love with him; she fell head over heels,” recalls Shelley’s daughter Lyza of the association. 

It wasn’t love at first sight, though.

No traction 

Lyza describes her native Kentuckian mother as “losing her mind” at the idea of Walden falling victim to urban sprawl. She’d become completely enamored of the community to which she’d moved in 1960 during her marriage to Charles Morss, a former Yale student and soldier at Fort Devens. 

But waste from the town dump threatened the historic environment in more ways than one, Lyza said: “The dump was leaching into Walden Pond. They were talking of putting condos there. Nobody was doing anything about it.” 

With development imminent, Lyza recalls her mother was simply outraged. 

“Condos were the battle cry, but no one was paying attention. Conservation wasn’t as big a deal back then as it is [now]. She raised her voice and, for a long time, couldn’t get any traction.”

The Eagle lands

Lyza describes Henley as a Thoreau fan, someone who venerated the naturalist philosopher’s book, “Walden.” Henley has been known to credit Thoreau’s work with helping him through the pain of his father’s passing.

Shelley Elinor Morss and Don Henley of The Eagles at a 1990s fundraiser at Morss’s Concord home. Courtesy photo

He reached out to Shelley upon learning of her pioneering efforts, but she was concerned that as a member of a country rock band, Henley’s involvement might project the wrong image. 

“Mom was utterly frustrated about this,” Lyza says, recalling her mother’s initial reaction to Henley. 

“’Well-l-l-l-l,’ my mother declared [with her signature Southern lilt], ’He’s no opera singer!’” (An opera aficionado, Shelley occasionally performed with the Savoyard Light Opera and the Concord Women’s Chorus.) 

At their first meeting, East Texas-born Henley emerged from the back of an ordinary car, not a limousine, sporting a cowboy hat, saying “all the right Southern gentleman things.” 

The two met on mutual ground.

“’Well-l-l-l-l, we’ll just do what we have to do to gain national attention!’” Lyza says of her mother’s about-face.

From then on, Shelley and Henley were inseparable. 

In 1990, Henley officially founded the nonprofit Walden Woods Project, which ultimately purchased two proposed development sites. Its work continues to this day.

The duo, with others, worked relentlessly. They organized benefit concerts and other fundraisers and had family dinners at Shelley’s home — decorated with legions of her regional oils and watercolors. Henley sent her front row tickets to Eagles concerts, including those featuring Bonnie Raitt, which she always attended.

A Concord oil painting by Shelley Elinor Morss. Courtesy photo


Named for literary icon Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and raised in Maysville, Kentucky, Shelley studied literature at William & Mary. Her obituary, which Lyza wrote, says she was a bona fide Southern belle. 

“She didn’t like to be rude and aggressive,” Lyza says. 

As president of the Garden Club of Concord, Shelley realized at one point people were interested in toppling her. That concerned her, but then again it didn’t. “If they want the job, they can have it,” Shelley had said, echoing a traditional Southern sentiment that women should be passive and demure. 

But the time came when she could not stay silent. Shelley rallied for preservation causes, raising her voice to help save Walden Woods, as well as Concord landmarks through the Save Our Heritage Foundation. 

Ahead of her time 

In addition to trumpeting sometimes unpopular conservation views, Shelley was ahead of her time in other ways. She was an Adelle Davis fan when many questioned the natural food arbiter’s premise. 

“She was very into health food — organic food,” says Lyza. “My oldest brother grew an organic garden in the backyard of our house, which was literally unheard of. I had a pony, and my brother would use manure for compost.” 

Lyza recalls being the only kid in school eating brown bread and sunflower seeds. “My friends called it bird food,” she says.  “They were eating Ring Dings, and Mom wouldn’t allow that, but sometimes I traded.” 

Enduring relationship

“Don Henley was still in touch with Mom as recently as five or six years ago,” Lyza recalls of the more than three-decade partnership.

“He was and really is the face of the Walden Woods Project, something to which Mom was happy to take a back seat. She wanted the attention on the project. He brought it. They got things done.”