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Omaha Magazine

PJ Morgan

Mar 21, 2024 02:49PM ● By Julius Fredrick
pj morgan taking care of business/Committed to Public Service b2b april may 2024

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

Natural borders and weather cycles, historical sites and urban cores, tourist traps and local dives—they all combine to contour a city’s identity. However, the spirit and mythos of an urban area lie with its citizens. Omaha claims an ‘oracle’ in Warren Buffett—a title worthy of a figure who foresaw a global financial empire tucked between the corners of 35th and Farnam Streets. Others, however, are situated nearer the redbrick milieu of the Old Market; the ebbs and flows of I-80; the shifting facades of Elmwood, Rockbrook, and Dundee. They illuminate the city in a more direct, if not always more immediately recognizable, way. In this regard, few outshine Omaha real estate magnate and former mayor, PJ Morgan—and perhaps none, his beaming smile.  

“It’s Paul Morgan Jr., but when I was a little kid we had one phone, and my mom would call me PJ because my dad was Paul,” Morgan explained, the fond memory sparkling with his grin. “And that was the name that stuck with me throughout life, which is great.”

Indeed, Morgan’s initials would in time become a consistent and increasingly recognizable stamp on the Omaha metro, from ‘SOLD’ signs near Memorial Park to campaign flyers announcing runs for public office. Besides his namesake, Morgan’s parents, Paul and Lucille, instilled qualities in their son that not only remained intact throughout the decades, but were likely pivotal to his later success: resilience, diligence, and a broad-minded geniality that tempered differences and encouraged collaboration.

“Both my parents were born in Omaha. My mom was raised at St. James Orphanage, out in Benson on 60th; her mom died when she was about two,” he said of Lucille, who was among a handful of women working in vehicle manufacturing citywide. “[My dad’s] mom was a hairdresser, and that’s where he learned it and got the license and so on for a number of years when I was a young kid. And then he got into doing real estate [and] worked with NP Dodge for a time and then his own company, too.”

Despite his father’s real estate ventures, a young Morgan didn’t foresee a career in the housing market. Fresh out of college, good with numbers, and hungry for real world experience, he also understood that opportunity rarely knocks twice.

“I was thinking I wanted to be in banking and work for a bank when I was going to school out in Arizona,” Morgan recalled. “Then I came back and worked for a company out of Oklahoma City, American Standard Life and Accident Insurance Co. […] And I helped them with FHA [Federal Housing Administration) and VA (Veterans’ Affairs) loans. I was 21 at the time and got a real estate license [and] did some selling at their Twin City [development] over the South Omaha Bridge.”

After a couple years hammering out loans and closing on homes, an unexpected vacuum in leadership saw a 23-year-old Morgan helm an interim position as acting manager, “until they could find someone.” Seventeen years, 200 homes, and a promotion to company president later, Morgan’s tenure was anything but temporary—and far from his only accomplishment.

Morgan consolidated his vitality, talent, and namesake into the PJ Morgan Company in 1967, an enterprise which would come to rival Nebraska’s largest firms with more than $200 million in managed properties and sales. While skilled in and clearly passionate about his career in real estate, profound words of the times—all the more resonant for the forces that conspired to silence them—stirred Morgan into public activity.

“I was young when John F. Kennedy was killed, and that had a dramatic effect that Friday afternoon, because he was so young and vibrant. And then in ’68 when Martin Luther was killed […] then in June, Bobby Kennedy was killed at the Ambassador Hotel,” Morgan recalled of the inspired yet tragic figures that formed his early ideals. “[Bobby] had a saying that he used, ‘This world is a world in which children suffer, [but we can lessen] the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will [do this]?’”

Before entering politics, Morgan worked on a board raising funds for cerebral palsy research—a role he’d reprise in the 1980s as the American Cancer Society’s residential drive chairman. Later, having notched terms as a Nebraska State Senator (1970) and Douglas County Commissioner (1973), Morgan would help organize the first drive for Project Chance, “an organization on about 25th and Hamilton, helping young kids back then.” The Omaha Jaycees named him an “Outstanding Young Omahan” in 1973 for his engagement.

“I believe strongly in community service,” he averred.

After serving on the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s board of governors for a time and selling the PJ Morgan Company in 1986, Morgan determined to focus more on politics. A difficult decision, although his successful mayoral bid in 1989 proved it was the right one. With his business acumen and practicality combined with his affability and charitable nature, Morgan was popular on both sides of the aisle, and most importantly, with the people of Omaha—his first job approval rating hit 82%.

“I feel like today, there’re too many people, whether Republican or Democrat, that work more for themselves and the party rather than the people. [Senator] Ed Zorinsky, who was really one of my best friends, said, ‘There’s not a Republican way or Democrat way to remove snow,’”  Morgan said. “We need to be working for the people and working together, all of us […] and that’s what public service is all about. And it’s a rewarding experience.”

Morgan served as mayor until 1996, focusing on affordable housing, safer (drug-free) school zones, enhancing the Omaha Police Department, and overall economic development of the city. Afterward, he became CEO and vice-chairman of Lincoln-based Duncan Aviation. In 2010, he was elected Douglas County Commissioner for District 6, and he restarted and once again sold PJ Morgan Real Estate (this time, to its employees) in 2019. Today, he owns TCB Real Estate (short for “Taking Care of Business,” an ode to Morgan’s favorite artist, Elvis Presley). Always committed to service, he is again running for office—this time, for County Commissioner of District 4.

“I’m just thankful I can work,” Morgan said, flashing his winning smile. “I love it and I look forward to it. My wife will tell you, I lay my clothes out the night before because I’m ready to go.”

For more information about TCB Real Estate, visit tcbomaha.com

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2024 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe. 


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