Music professor remembered for generosity, dedication to Columbia

Monday, September 6, 2010 | 9:23 p.m. CDT; updated 4:46 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 15, 2010

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.


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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. 

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Suzanne Kitchen September 7, 2010 | 10:13 a.m.

I grew up with Harry as my next-door neighbor. He was everything the article says -- talented, kind, generous, sweet, and helpful. Even as an adult, if I called on him, he always came through. Our family will miss him.

(Report Comment)
Cristian Chiritescu September 7, 2010 | 11:23 a.m.

I've known Harry since 1976 - as he was touring Romania - for America's bicentennial celebration, he helped (artistic direction and conducting) put on a show with some Missourian high school kids - a small, summer production for a man of his stature. If you wish, you can download the LP from:

He always impressed me with the perfect blend of crisp intelligence and sensibility - what a man he was!

BTW, I'm the Romanian who will always appreciate the helping hand to settle in US. At that time I was a Math student working as a tour guide during summer vacations. I'll always cherish that summer...

(Report Comment)
Johyn Byer September 7, 2010 | 1:07 p.m.

I am one of many people who live a richer, fuller life because of Harry. Due to his encouragement I joined the First Presbyterian Church choir, and University of Missouri Choral Union. Our family looked forward to Summer Theatrer which he led at UMC. On Christmas eve he sang "O Holy Night" at 8:00 PM at the presbyterian church and then at 11:00 PM at the episcopal church where his wife, Connie, was choir director. Harry is an example of the Christian life lived to the fullest.

(Report Comment)
C J Bierschwal September 7, 2010 | 1:12 p.m.

Harry was a great friend of my wife Beryl who sang with the choir from the time Harry became director until her death.
He sang at her memorial service and made sure the choir sang also. He was such a great caring person. He will be so missed

(Report Comment)
elizabeth leonard September 7, 2010 | 2:10 p.m.

I grew up with the Morrison girls and Connie and Harry were always very sweet about teaching music to those with a thimblespoon of talent. Stephanie, Chally, Carrie and Sarah know that you are in my prayers and that I thought the world of your Dad. Whenever I hear "O Holy Night" I think he should be singing! What a great gift he had and a greater spirit of giving. Beth Byer Leonard

(Report Comment)
Sara Westermark September 7, 2010 | 6:58 p.m.

I remember how much fun Harry was to work with when I was attending the University of Missouri. He amazed me with his patter songs as the Major General from Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance". He was always ready with a smile and a kind word. He will be missed.

(Report Comment)
charlotte obrien September 8, 2010 | 8:38 a.m.

I just want to express our sympathy to Harry's daughters and their families. Harry was one in a million! We loved him. I always looked forward to his singing The Holy City on Palm Sunday. He will be greatly missed, but by now he should be directing a choir of heavenly voices! Charlotte and Wilkie O'Brien

(Report Comment)
Carol Estey September 8, 2010 | 1:00 p.m.

He was a gentleman and a scholar with the sweetest, sly sense of humor. Gracious beyond compare. It is empty in Senior Hall without him, but his voice still resounds, so somehow I feel his presence will always remain. His last performance was a gem! So grateful to have seen it. Warmest regards to his so special family.

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