Joella and Stewart Morris
A Southern girl, Joella Mitchell Morris was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. With a mother from Tennessee and a father from The Old Dominion, she was destined to become interested in the history of the South and of Southern culture. Through her parent’s influence, and that of Ima Hogg and Faith Bybee, Ima’s protégé, Joella was inspired to action. With husband, Stewart, she spent the last five decades researching, preserving, restoring and honoring history.
Joella was instrumental in the establishment of the Museum of Southern History, which opened its doors in Sugar Land, Texas in 1998. The museum now enjoys a new home on the campus of HBU, where it joins the university’s two existing museums – the Dunham Bible Museum and the Museum of American Architecture and Decorative Arts, of which Joella is a charter member – within the Joella and Stewart Morris Cultural Arts Center. The arts center features 14,000 square feet of expanded exhibit space, as well as a 1,200 seat theater and auditorium, chapel and recital hall, and The Great Hall, with room for a seated dinner for 300.
She and Stewart received the Gordon Gray Award in 1979 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation for their far-ranging commitment to preservation and for the significant 1881 restoration of the Stewart Title headquarters in Galveston, the first major restorative project in the Strand area. They also published a book on the history of Houston, Native Houstonian: a Collective Portrait, by Ann Wilson. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance has awarded Joella and Stewart with the 2007 President’s award for outstanding leadership in historic preservation.
Joella served as the honorary president of the Colonial Dames of America, Chapter VIII. She was a member of the numerous historic and patriotic organizations, such as Daughters of the American Revolution, Daughters of the American Colonist and Daughters of the Confederacy. Joella was the special events chairman for Stewart Title and held responsibility for planning functions in landmark buildings across the country, complemented by historical vignettes she had written and watercolor paintings created by her daughter, Carlotta Barker.
She was a graduate of Lamar High School in Houston and Southern Methodist University. In 2006, Joella and Stewart each received honorary doctorates from Washington & Lee University.
Joella Mitchell Morris passed away on September 12, 2013 in Houston. She is survived by her husband of 70 years, Stewart Morris, Sr., three children, Carlotta Barker, Stewart Morris, Jr., and Lisa Simon, eight grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.
Rising from office clerk to the head of a publicly-held international corporate giant, Stewart Morris has devoted his career to the management, growth and expansion of Stewart Information Services Corporation (SISCO) and its subsidiary companies known as Stewart Title. Morris succeeded his father, William Carloss Morris, after his death in 1950, when Stewart Title was comprised of only eight offices and a handful of Texas-based agents. Morris, with older brother Carloss, has seen the company expand to 50 states and 13 foreign countries, presently with offices and agents in over 9,000 locations. He is past president and past co-chief executive officer of SISCO, chairman of the Executive Committee of Stewart Title Company and chairman emeritus of Stewart Information International. In 1995, he was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Morris received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin in 1943 and was granted an honorary doctorate from HBU. A graduate of Midshipman’s School at Columbia University, Morris served in the Navy as a Lieutenant JG on LST 38 in the South Pacific during World War II. In 2006 Morris and his wife Joella received honorary doctorates from Washington & Lee University.
A founding father, twice past chairman and currently a member of the Board of Trustees of HBU, Morris and his wife contributed significantly to the establishment of HBU’s new Joella and Stewart Morris Cultural Arts Center.
Morris and his wife, Joella, have dedicated their lives to community service, in particular to the restoring and honoring history. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance has awarded Joella and Stewart with the 2007 President’s award for outstanding leadership in historic preservation. Morris is a past advisory trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, former director of the Harris County Heritage Society and Galveston Historical Foundation, past chairman of the Carriage Museum of America, and honoree life trustee of the Carriage Association of America.
Morris restored and endowed the 1842 house on the campus of Washington & Lee University, now known as the Morris House, which contains suites for visiting dignitaries. Together, the Morrises lead the 1881 restoration of the Stewart Title home office in Galveston, where they imported 16 granite columns from the Galveston County Court House, erecting 10 of them on the HBU campus to symbolize the Ten Commandments.
Morris participated in the 200th anniversary of the Reenactment of George Washington’s funeral, as broadcasted on CNN, and has financed the restoration of the stables and carriage coach house at Mount Vernon. He received the prestigious Paul Carrington Chapter No. 5, Sons of the American Revolution George Washington Service Award in 2004, given to a person who manifests the highest quality of public and private life as exemplified by the Father of the Country.
Morris has served as trustee and secretary of the Oldham Little Church Foundation that financially assists over 200 small churches annually. He is a past national trustee of the National Jewish Center and a past honoree of the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine’s Trustees Dinner of Houston.
Morris serves as a Deacon from Second Baptist Church of Houston and is past senior chairman of the board of Southern National Bank; past trustee of the Star of Hope Mission; and past honoree of the Memorial Hermann Hospital Foundation, Galleria Chamber of Commerce and Fort Bend County War on Drugs.
Today he drives “Four in Hand,” four high Courage Gray horses with a carriage from his collection of 50.