Morris Scholarship One of OWU’s Largest
Jim Morris’ defining trait was his belief in the value of education, according to his friend Rita Hill. Morris died Sept. 30, 2017, in Portland, Oregon, at the age of 95 after a long career in medicine and a lifetime of saving his gains from the stock market. Hill is now acting as the executor of Morris’ estate, which will fulfill his lifelong belief in perpetuity at Ohio Wesleyan. The Dr. James F. Morris ’44 Endowed Scholarship, established with his bequest, is expected to be the second-largest at OWU, totaling more than $4 million for students.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time he talked about OWU,” Hill says. “He so valued the education he got there. His family was really poor and uneducated; he was really smart. He had an eidetic memory, so he knew he could go to college but he didn’t know if he’d be able to afford it.”
But OWU offered him a full scholarship, and he graduated summa cum laude in three years with a degree in zoology. While at OWU, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He went on to obtain his medical degree from the University of Rochester (New York) School of Medicine and Dentistry. While there, he contracted tuberculosis and was forced to spend a year in a sanatorium. He took pride in the fact that he read a book a day for the entire year of confinement, according to his obituary. The experience had a lifelong impact: Among other accomplishments, he went on to become a pulmonologist and president of the Western Tuberculosis Conference from 1972 to 1976.
Following his graduation from Rochester in 1948, Morris served as a resident in internal medicine at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for three years, finishing his training at the University of Utah School of Medicine. In his later years, Morris worked at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, then served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps before returning to the VA as a staff physician, pulmonologist, educator, and medical director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit. He was a professor of medicine at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland.
Hill worked alongside Morris at the VA, eventually becoming head nurse. “I loved him as a co-manager because of the respect he gave the nursing staff and janitorial staff; he respected the role that all of us had. That made me love him,” she says.
Morris had exacting, sometimes demanding standards, Hill acknowledges. “He would fight for people who were underdogs that he thought were like him but also be really critical of people who weren’t hard workers,” she says, calling him a “scrapper.”
Following a divorce decades ago, Morris rebuilt his wealth through his lifelong hobby of investing in the stock market. “He was generous to a fault with people around him, penurious to a fault with himself. He would not spend money on himself. He did not have heat in his house for several years because he did not want to spend money on heat. But then he was giving money to a friend of his who needed a hearing aid,” Hill says.
Ohio Wesleyan is not the only school to benefit from his benevolence. In 2007, he bequeathed the University of Rochester $1 million to establish a need-based scholarship. In an article celebrating the bequest, Morris said, “Anything I can contribute to help needy medical students achieve their medical degrees and the greatest profession there is — actually a calling— gives me great pleasure.”
Jim’s brother, Robert H. Morris ’42, also died late last year. Robert’s son, Robert B. Morris ’72, lives in Stewartsville, New Jersey, with his wife and two daughters.