Karen Morss, aka the Lemon Lady, an author, pilot, and pioneering Silicon Valley–entrepreneur-turned-farmer, died in December 2018. Karen was a passionate producer of the most fabulous Meyer lemons and a favorite grower and friend to The FruitGuys. She was an inspiration to women interested in aviation, business, dog sled races, farming, poodles, and writing.
“Sadly, Karen passed away on December 30th. Today I spread her ashes along with our past pets in the lemon orchard,” wrote her husband David Morss on the Lemon Ladies Orchard website on January 15th, 2019.
The previous entry, dated December 6, 2018, was from Karen:
I am afraid that I have some bad news to report. Yesterday, I received an unexpected medical diagnosis that will require all of my energy for treatment and resolution. I am so, so sorry but I am going to shut down the orchard immediately and refund all existing orders. It may take me a week or so to do that part but I promise full refunds to all. It’s been such a pleasure to grow these lemons for you. You have my deepest thanks and appreciation.
Wishing you a joyful holiday and year ahead.
Hailing from Philadelphia, Karen was a true Renaissance woman and trailblazer in everything she did. She was one of the few women entrepreneurs in early Silicon Valley, where she worked in the computer and software industry from the early 1970s to the mid-90s. Along the way, she got her pilot’s license. She loved flying so much that she left computing and started a flight school, Diamond Aviation, in San Carlos, CA, that specialized in teaching women to fly. In 2000, she sold the school and retired, writing two aviation-themed screenplays, including one about Katherine Wright, the sister of the famous Wright Brothers. She planted 40 dwarf Meyer lemon trees in her backyard acreage in 2004, and her first full harvest arrived in 2007.
As she told The FruitGuys Magazine back in 2012, she planted her orchard because she had an empty backyard and “adored Meyer lemons—and back then, they were very hard to come by.
“Each tree is named for a woman who inspired me or helped me achieve my goals in life. Some are from my family, some are from the flight school, some are just people who inspired me in general. There is an Amelia Earhart lemon tree out there,” Karen said.
Other trees include Celia, Debbie, Hildegard, Lynette, Madeline, Martha, Oprah, and Zohreh, to name a few.
Karen also wrote several children’s books, including Sled Dog Poodles: The true life adventures of John “The Poodleman” Suter, about standard poodles who ran the Iditarod sled race in Alaska; and Flying Poodles: A Christmas Story.
Rebecca North, The FruitGuys director of quality and supply chain, knew and admired Karen for the decade we did business with her.
“This time of year, Karen and I always talked about the Iditarod and lemons, but when I checked her website, I saw the entry from her husband,” said Rebecca. “Karen was a powerhouse. Kind, generous, and a tenacious businesswoman, she would always share perfectly sweet-tart, thirst-quenching lemonade and fascinating stories when I’d visit. I remember her making a pizza with lemon on it—it was surprisingly good!—and telling stories about her flight school and how she used to take her standard poodle in the plane with her.
“She always wore yellow, which matched her optimism, energy, and vivacious drive,” Rebecca remembered, adding that in her honor, The FruitGuys intends to plant a Meyer lemon tree on its South San Francisco grounds and name it Karen. “She picked, washed, and trimmed the lemons herself. Seasons come and go, and farms and farmers do too, and this is a reminder to keep in touch with those important to you.”
This video shows Karen giving Rebecca a tour of Lemon Ladies Orchard in 2012.
Karen loved accompanying her husband David Morss, a test pilot, and air racer, to his many competitions through the years and often wrote about them for his blog. Reflecting on life as a racing pilot’s wife after witnessing a fatal accident at the Reno 2011 air races, she wrote:
All last week people kept asking me how I could ‘let’ Dave do the things he does. Well, first of all, ‘let’ is not part of our deal. Dave lives each day doing exactly what he wants to do. He is passionate about what he does. He works very hard at what he does. He is very good at what he does. He doesn’t waste time doing things he doesn’t like to do. How wonderful is that. For me, the lesson of Reno 2011 is just that. Do what you love, do it with passion. You never know when a left turn might be coming. And there is no guarantee on the number of tomorrows you will have.
We raise a glass of your famous Meyer lemonade to you, Karen.
Pia Hinckle is a San Francisco–based writer and editor and publisher of The FruitGuys Magazine.