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Sissie Morris: An Appreciation

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Morris Museum of Art Director Kevin Grogan wrote a touching memoriam on museum cofounder Sissie Morris, who passed away in April, for the May/June issue of the Augusta Magazine, and we just had to share it. 

The 62-year long marriage of Sissie and Billy Morris was an unusually harmonious, mutually rewarding, and fruitful one. Their remarkable partnership reflected a life of shared interests and a sincere commitment on the part of each of them to the individual interests of the other, a kind of bilateral loyalty.

An interest in art was something they had in common from the outset of their relationship.  They both found it compelling on an intellectual and emotional level, and from the earliest days of their marriage they set out to learn all they could about this shared interest.  They traveled widely, visiting museums and galleries wherever they went, and they made friends along the way with important art dealers, curators, and like-minded collectors who were, as they were, in pursuit of knowledge.

They came to know what they loved—they shared a keen interest in landscape painting and the art of the Impressionists—and when their means allowed they chose to share this personal enthusiasm with others institutionally through their gift to Augusta of the Morris Museum of Art. Billy says that they had “some lucky breaks” along the way, but there is no gainsaying the fact that it was their drive and their interest in doing something important for the city that they loved that led them to found the Museum.

Sissie was a founding trustee who served on the museum’s board from a time before there was actually a museum. Billy says, “she loved it, as she loved beautiful things.”  As importantly, she loved what it did for Augusta.

Trusteeship, particularly of cultural institutions, involves a complex mix of duties and responsibilities. The attributes that one always hopes to find in a good trustee—honesty, stability, dependability, devotion to the institution, and a willingness to devote time and energy on an impartial basis for the benefit of all—were qualities one found in Sissie Morris.  In her, they were coupled with such innate characteristics as kindness, generosity of spirit, intellectual curiosity, gentility, and a loving attitude toward others.  It is the combination of these things that really set her apart, that mark her as truly exemplary.  The things that identified Sissie Morris as a good trustee also identified her as a great human being. 

Billy cites her extremely good judgement, her natural ability as a judge of character, her love of people, and her eagerness to help as critical in getting the Morris Museum underway.  In the years since, those characteristics helped to shape its nature and secure its place in this community.

Words cannot adequately convey the sense of loss her passing causes, nor are they sufficient to capture the gratitude we feel for a life so well and generously lived.

By Kevin Grogan | Photo by Mark Albertin