30th Anniversary of Morris Award

Comments by Ulla Morris Carter
February 2011

This year’s Joe Alex Morris, Jr.s’ Lectureship Program happens to fall only six days short of the 9th of February, the day Joe was shot and killed in Teheran in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. This is, however, not the only anniversary to be remembered today: Another is the establishment of the Joe Alex Morris Jr. Lectureship Program at the Nieman Foundation, 30 years ago, in 1981. 30 years, as far as I am concerned, presents a very long time, particularly when it pertains to remembrances. Very few, if any, here tonight probably knew or remember who Joe Alex Morris actually was. I had the honor to be present in 1981 during the inauguration of the first Joe Alex Morris Lectureship Program under the leadership of then Nieman Foundation Curator, Jim Thomson. The establishment of the program coincided with the three-day Nieman Convocation in 1981. Joe’s family, friends and colleagues have, over all those years, proudly and gladly attended the Lectureship Program. I want to thank the Nieman Foundation for
having made it possible.

I was married to Joe for 20 happy years, starting in Cairo, where, when I met him in 1958, he was the New York Herald Tribune Middle East correspondent. I worked for a German company in Cairo. Despite many uncertainties and political upheavals, we never lost our shared love for adventure, and particularly our love for the Middle East. It is ironic that as we speak the Middle East is engulfed by at least two more revolutions.

Despite the hardship of too many separations due to wars, curfews and evacuations, life abroad was exciting. Our first daughter, Maria, was born in Cairo; and our second daughter, Karin, and third daughter, Julia, were both born in Beirut.

Journalists-and their wives or partners-believe that there is a god who looks after them. Many of us know, of course, there isn’t, but we still find comfort in believing it. Yet, when a journalist is killed, the media, and in particular friends of the journalist, are still stunned. I was touched and overwhelmed by the love and concern that our journalist friends provided after hearing of Joe’s death. Joe, many of them said or wrote, was an exceptional journalist and an exceptional person. He was a genuinely humble man and had that most prized possession-the respect, love and friendship of his peers. Their many touching tributes gave testimony to this.

In 1979 Joe’s family, journalists, friends and colleagues, decided to establish a memorial in his name. Particularly his journalist friends-those who had been with him in Teheran when he was killed, but had not had a chance of leaving closed-off Iran to attend any kind of memorial -- wanted to contribute something. This brought about the idea of a program at the Nieman Foundation. As it evolved, the program would not have been possible without the creative thinking and remarkable and positive input of one person, who is with us tonight: Dick Stone, Joe’s room-mate and friend from Harvard College days in the late 1940s.

I have had the honor of being present at many-not all-Joe Alex Morris, Jr. Memorial lectureships. The few I missed were mainly because I was a full-time working mother, raising three children. In the early days the speakers were almost exclusively journalist friends who had known Joe, among them Flora Lewis, Eric Sevareid, Peter Jennings, Harrison Salsbury, Johnny Apple and others.

During the 1981 inauguration of the program, another honor was posthumously bestowed on Joe-the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. Louis Lyons, the first curator of the Nieman Foundation Program, was present. In a memorable speech he said:

"Our present group of Nieman Fellows has made an appropriate award for the work of a newspaperman of notable honesty and courage and skill and unflagging devotion to fact. In honoring the work of Joe Alex Morris, Jr., the Fellows of this group express their own standard of what is worthy to emulate. Only one who never sought an award deserves one. It’s an anomaly to apply for an honor."

That was exactly the essence of Joe Alex Morris. He did not think of journalism in terms of prizes and awards. He thought of it in terms of stories and events that needed to be covered and told to his readers.

I cannot end without mentioning and thanking the one person who has kept this program alive over many years, your curator, Bob Giles. Bob Giles and his wife Nancy have become friends, not only of mine, but also of my husband Bill Carter. Bob and Bill share a love of writing (Bill is a writer, photographer and a jazz musician) but they also share a love of traditional Jazz. (you might not know that Bob plays banjo). He once took the Red Eye to California to attend a jazz event, which Bill had organized. Bob then managed to fly back to Boston the same night to be with his Nieman Fellows the next morning.

Let me end on a personal note by saying that visiting with so many of you for so many years has meant a great deal to me and my family.