COLUMBIA — Harry Morrison of Columbia died Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010, at Boone Hospital Center of pancreatic cancer. He was 82.
He was born Oct. 6, 1927, in Douds, Iowa, to Harry and Grace (Cree) Morrison.
He completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Iowa. He then toured with an opera company, primarily in Chicago and North Carolina. He could have excelled as a professional opera singer but decided he needed to make a steady income, said Ross Haley, a longtime friend, student and colleague.
He married Connie Jacobsen in 1955. They were married for 30 years before divorcing. After marrying, Mr. Morrison earned a master's degree in fine arts at the University of Iowa.
His first teaching position was at the University of Idaho as a music professor. Mr. Morrison and his wife moved to Columbia in 1960, where he was a music professor at MU.
Mr. Morrison taught at MU for 30 years and directed the choir at First Presbyterian Church for nearly 40 years. He had many other part-time jobs and regularly donated his time to others. He fixed boat engines on the weekend at JBJ Sporting Goods, sang the national anthem at MU basketball and football games, narrated for the MU marching band and tutored a number of students. He directed 150 musicals and sang in hundreds of recitals, daughter Carrie Morrison of St. Louis said.
Michael Bancroft, organist at First Presbyterian Church, said Morrison influenced many students.
“He challenged them,” Bancroft said. “He is the type of teacher that takes personal interest in his students.”
Mr. Morrison will be remembered for his generosity and deep touch.
“A very generous person, but quietly so,” Carrie Morrison said.
After a visit to Romania, Mr. Morrison helped his Romanian tour guide move to the U.S. The man and his wife have lived in California for many years, Carrie Morrison said.
After divorcing, Mr. Morrison and Connie Morrison remained close and were great friends, Carrie Morrison said.
“When they got divorced he supported her through seminary school,” Carrie Morrison said.
Mr. Morrison was a versatile person. Besides music he loved the water, the Ozarks, spending time with his grandchildren and children, said Stephanie Reed, his daughter who lives in St. Peters. He built his own boat, a cabin cruiser, that was 16- to 17-feet long. The family regularly took the boat to the Lake of the Ozarks, Reed said.
The grandchildren adored him, said daughter Chally Morgan of Sunset Beach.
“He did share his love of boating with all the grandchildren," Morgan said. "It was a love fest with all the grandkids.”
His daughters were close to him.
“He was a great friend not just a father," said Sarah Morrison, his daughter who lives in Austin, Texas.
Carrie Morrison recalled the “crying couch,” where his daughters would sit and talk to him about their problems.
“He was kind with a quiet wisdom, he would sit there and listen to us, guide us, but never give us the answers,” Carrie Morrison said.
He built close relationships with his students and members of the community.
“He was a great bridge between the university and the community,” said Stefan Freund, director of the Columbia Civic Orchestra and associate professor of composition and music theory at MU. “In my opinion, we need more people like that. It’s a great loss to see him go.”
Each Christmas the family would sing together in a three-part harmony.
“Those are my favorite memories,” Carrie Morrison said.
Even in the face of pancreatic cancer, Mr. Morrison remained upbeat.
“He was very positive, lighthearted, lived life to the fullest,” Sarah Morrison said.
Teaching remained a priority, Morgan said. "He just made room on Thursdays for his chemo, scheduled around his teaching."
After Mr. Morrison told the Rev. Richard Ramsey he had been diagnosed with cancer, Ramsey told him they wanted him to continue directing the choir at First Presbyterian Church.
“He volunteered that he wanted to keep on leading as long as he could. He died on Saturday and the previous Sunday he was directing the choir,” Ramsey said.
Mr. Morrison retired from MU 17 years ago but continued to teach part time at Stephens College. He taught this past Monday at Stephens College until noon. Tuesday he was in the hospital.
Friends and family visited Mr. Morrison in the hospital and his daughters sang songs to him.
“He wanted a happy celebration. On the morning he died he was ready to go and he wanted it to be positive," Carrie Morrison said.
The daughters also wanted it to be positive. “Although it was emotionally devastating, I think we tried hard making it gentle and good,” Morgan said.
Haley, Mr. Morrison's longtime friend, admired his dedication to Columbia and the arts.
"I find it fascinating, but the man had so much talent and he was able to fulfill his talent right here in Columbia, and he was happy to share it right here in Columbia, when he could have been in New York or gone to L.A.," Haley said.
Mr. Morrison is survived by his four daughters, Stephanie Reed, Chally Morgan, Carrie Morrison and Sarah Morrison, and five grandchildren. His four siblings and an infant son, Harry S. Morrison III, preceded him in death.
Services will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church, 16 Hitt St.
A life celebration party will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Lela Raney Wood Hall at Stephens College.
Memorial contributions may be sent to the Missouri Symphony Society at 203 S. Ninth St.