When it came to advancing education, the fine arts, literacy and city beautification, people across Texarkana said no one approached those challenges with more zest and zeal than Martha Leah Morriss.
For decades, this woman of dynamic identity and immense sense of purpose put Texarkana's betterment at the forefront of her thoughts, ideas and efforts. News of her passing this past weekend, at age 92, left some of the people who knew her best with memories of her continuous, intrepid enthusiasm for the Twin-Cities.
Morriss' community involvement included volunteer time for the Junior League of Texarkana, Hospice of Texarkana, the Literacy Council of Bowie and Miller counties, Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, Women for the Arts and Keep Texarkana Beautiful.
"Martha was an outstanding individual, who gave so much when it came to improving the fine arts and public education," TRACH Executive Director Brian Goesl said. "She was an extraordinary individual to work with and she could always be called on for great advice. She was certainly a great friend and a serious supporter of the fine arts as far back as I can remember. She left a truly positive legacy and her work and ideas made Texarkana a much better place. For this whole area, her passing is a tremendous loss."
On New Year's Eve 1948, Josh Morriss Jr. and Martha Williams—her maiden name—walked down the aisle together and got married.
As for education, Morriss would go on to earn a degree from Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Va., and she wanted generations that followed to get both a great public education as well as a higher education.
As a couple, Morrisses would go on to donate 10 acres of land where the Martha and Josh Morriss Mathematics & Engineering Elementary School would later be built at University Drive and McKnight Road. This state-0f-the-art education center continues to offer instruction specifically in the areas of math and engineering—as well as some of the fine arts—at Martha's insistence.
For this land gift, the couple were awarded the Crystal Tiger in recognition of their service and contribution to public education.
"This game-changer of a public school offers instructional opportunities—specifically in the areas of math, engineering and technology—with direct ties to Texas A&M University-Texarkana College of Education and Liberal Arts and College of Engineering," said Paul Norton, Texarkana, Texas, Independent School District superintendent.
"Martha Morriss was an exceptional community servant and leader," Norton said. "She was a strong advocate for many efforts, but most importantly for education."
Former Texarkana College President James Henry Russell agreed.
"For all of us, Mrs. Morriss was larger than life when it came to being a positive force for everything good in the whole community," said Russell, who now serves as executive vice president and chief financial officer for BWI.
"She made sure there would be a rich mixture of opportunity available for people everywhere in the community. More than that, Mrs. Morriss also helped instill a moral compass in hundreds, if not thousands of people—a moral compass that still benefits them to this day—and will benefit them for years to come."
There will never be another lady quite like Martha Morriss. We have all been blessed by her philanthropy and volunteer efforts."
Retired McDonald's Restaurant owner Tom Sadowski said Morriss not only had an eye for beautiful landscaping, but also for re-establishing beauty where it had previously been vanquished.
"I remember when the Interstate 30 Corridor started expanding," Sadowski said. "It meant the disposal of a lot of good trees, so Martha made sure that sacrifice wouldn't be permanent and she made sure the tree scenery got put back along I-30. Both Martha and Josh did a heck of lot for the community."
Morriss' awards include being a Texarkana Independent School District Distinguished Alumni recipient and a 1991 Clyde E. Palmer Civic Achievement Award winner. Since 1941, the Palmer award has been presented to local residents who have shown a longtime commitment to civic service in Texarkana. At the Award's Golden Anniversary Ceremony, Morriss became the 51st recipient.
In October of 2008, Morriss received the Outstanding Community Impact honor for her longtime support for TRAHC, the Perot Theatre, the Regional Arts Center and ArtsSmart.
In April 2014, Texarkana College honored Ross Perot with a replica of his father's wooden cotton brokerage business office—just as it looked in the 1930s and 40s.
The idea to replicate Perot's father's cotton sales office belonged to both Martha Morriss and her husband. Both knew Perot had looked for the office building for years.
"I don't know a life in this community that hasn't been positively impacted, in some way, by Martha Morriss," Texas-side Attorney Fred Norton said. "No one cared more about Texarkana, or its people than she did, and she generously shared her resources, her tenacity and her engaging personality to make our part of the world a better place. While she will never be replaced, her legacy inspires us all to model the servant leader's life she lived so well."
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, April 12, at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church.