An Appreciation: Dennis Morin, 66

By Billy Fried, Special to the Independent

4.2 Dennis obitLaguna lost a treasure when Dennis Morin died Dec. 31 after a vigorous battle with cancer.  He was only 66; too young for a man with such an appetite and energy for life.

Morin was a bon vivant, a raconteur, a connoisseur, and other French words.  He founded and took public one of the county’s largest software companies, Wonderware, helping many achieve financial and career success. He was famous for throwing lavish company parties, like renting the New Orleans Superdome for 80,000 customers, and booking groups like The Pointer Sisters and Neville Brothers.

He went on to build Laguna’s famous Rock House, the partially submerged home near Aliso Beach that is one part eco, one part Catalan, and all parts pleasure. This is the ultimate bachelor pad with sexy curves, sunken living room, home theatre, and Jacuzzi that would make Hugh Hefner blush. Morin spent four years designing and engineering every detail of the house, and it shows. It is a masterpiece.

He spent most of his time on the Rock in its kitchen, dense with the accouterments of a working chef: books, cutlery, and the latest in technology, like a sous-vide slow cooker. Morin’s possessed a vast culinary repertoire, from France and every continent in Asia, to down home BBQ, clam bakes and pizza. He always raised the bar on panache, presentation and pairings, and lavished all of this on his friends,  eschewing the dining room for the coziness of the floor in front of the fire.

But it wasn’t his entertaining that drew innumerable women – and men – to Morin. Nor was it the seductive Rock House. His intellect, charm and humor won the day. He was, quite simply, always the smartest guy in the room. His BS meter was on a par with Bill Maher and Jon Stewart. He spent the better part of his battle with cancer equally battling Republican friends on Facebook with logic, not name calling. He worked tirelessly (and hilariously) to point out hypocrisy within the party, and equally hard to support Obama. He believed if he changed one mind, it was worth it. I believe he left us feeling the world was in a better place with Obama.

Morin also moved people with his clear and lucid ruminations on his journey with the disease. He expressed his fears and stoicisms about death freely. It was a balm, and a clever and poignant way to keep friends in the loop without the tedium of repeating it. What else was special about him? He could fly a plane, sail a boat, race cars, write computer code, and expound on science. When Apple released the iPhone, Morin released some of the first apps as a sideline.

But most would agree that Morin’s most endearing quality was his generosity of spirit.  Behind his laconic New England surliness was a pussycat who loved to entertain, laugh, love, and take care of people. That’s what chefs do. And entrepreneurs. I think of him as that rare dichotomy of businessman and artist. He was a trenchant writer, took amazing pictures, played guitar, cooked beyond comprehension, and was always the best thing on Facebook. He was a sensualist and incurable romantic. And he loved. Madly. Late in life, he discovered the love of his life, Annie Speck. His love for her simply bubbled over.

She was the light always shining bright in his battle with cancer. They were an inexhaustible team, chasing down every avenue for a cure. Speck would drive while Morin searched for the best nearby ethnic restaurant to buoy their spirits after hospital visits. He was knocked out by her beauty and spirit. It softened him.  Before Annie he used to grimace for pictures. After Annie it was all smiles. Their romance was way too short, and I’m sad for Annie and the grief she will feel for too long a time. But she will look back at the years spent with the man she called Bubboo and see it as the gift it was.

Those of us who he touched – and there were many – are already feeling the sting of loss, because we know it will be quite some time before we see the likes of someone as talented and interesting as Dennis Morin.


Laguna Beach resident Billy Fried operates the tourism company La Vida Laguna.

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