97-year-old Dr. Stewart Morris Sr. – Founding Father
Interviewed by Dr. Jerry Johnston
He is 97-years-young, spry, alert, and when the topic of HBU is discussed there are tears in the eyes of Stewart Morris Sr. At the invitation of Dr. Morris, Billy Graham responded to come and presented the Dedication sermon of Houston Baptist College in 1963. Every 12th grade student from the public schools in Houston enjoyed the bus ride to the new campus on this notable, historic day. HBU celebrated its 20,000 graduate in May, 2017!
Stewart Morris Sr. is inimitable and an encyclopedia of both the history of HBU and Houston. As a Founding Father who was instrumental in establishing and supporting the Christian mission of HBU, Dr. Stewart Morris Sr. received the inaugural Founders Medal at the biannual Spirit of Excellence Gala in November 2016. Dr. Morris remains a visionary today, and his continued involvement is visible in every area of the University.
The University expresses our thanks to Dr. Morris. HBU is poised for dramatic, strategic growth, uniquely, in the mega city of Houston where 12 million people live within a 200-mile radius. There is no place in America quite like Houston – the largest philanthropic city of America.
What did Dr. Morris do after our 52-minute filmed interview? On a golf cart, ice cream in hand, he cruised throughout the campus envisioning the growth of
HBU in the days to come!
JERRY JOHNSTON: Fifty years at Houston Baptist University, (Houston Baptist College back then) 20,000 graduates – and today we have the honor to sit with Dr. Stewart Morris, one of HBU’s Founding Fathers.
I read the preamble to the by-laws that the early Trustees established, and it says very clearly that Houston Baptist College is a Christian liberal arts college. Its purpose is to offer curriculum of studies and program, of student activities dedicated to the development of moral character, the enrichment of spiritual lives, and the perpetuation of growth in Christian ideas. And as Trustees, you later adopted the confessional statement that Jesus Christ is Lord. How important has Jesus Christ been to Houston Baptist University?
STEWART MORRIS: Well, Mr. Rex Baker, Sr., who was general counsel, wrote up a preamble. And in there he had written that all the Trustees will be Christians. And that’s when we added the word ‘Jesus Christ.’ You gotta believe that. By the way, in the very beginning I made it a point to interview every professor, asking their beliefs. And one said, “Did you want a dissertation?” I said, “No, you got a little statement right there. Do you accept it, or not? Just give me a yes or no. That’s all I want to know. I don’t want a two-hour discussion.” You gotta get something down in black and white where people can understand it. That’s the beginning of that.
JERRY JOHNSTON: I want to go back to the dedication ceremony. Billy Graham came. What was that day like?
STEWART MORRIS: Well, it was a big deal to me because I went home to supper one night and learned a good lesson – you better listen to your kids. I sat down to dinner, and I said, “We’ve got land; we’ve got the first building up; we’ve got faculty; we’ve got staff … but we can’t get students. We can’t even get them to come out and look.” I said, “How in the world can you get kids to come look?” My daughter, Carlotta, who was in high school, says, “Get them out of school during class hours and they’ll show.” — after that was arranged, we had 5,000 high school students show up on the campus. That’s the origin of getting Billy Graham. I called him and told him what the dream was and he accepted.
JERRY JOHNSTON: We’re going to show you that YouTube video that’s preserved, of Billy Graham at the campus of Houston Baptist College, in 1963. Take me back to that service when Billy was here. What was it like for you? What was that service like, when you saw those 5,000 high school kids.
STEWART MORRIS: Well, it was the answer to prayer to me. And it was an exciting time, to say the least. And main thing, all I could do is think of seeing students out of high school, at HBC – Houston Baptist College. But at any rate, it’s been everything to me. That was the fruition of the beginning.
JERRY JOHNSTON: As I read through the book by Dr. Looser, An Act of Providence. It’s the story of Houston Baptist University (see pg. 24). It is a phenomenal, gripping story. And all throughout it is the name of Stewart Morris, Sr., who along with his family, has been such a catalyst to the growth of HBU. You know, many universities have lost their Christian premise. HBU has not, it compassionately accepts students from all backgrounds, without changing any of its core beliefs. What does that mean to you?
STEWART MORRIS: I’ve traveled a lot. I went all across the United States, even attending Harvard for a little while. I went to all of these schools and all of them seemed to have been started off by some church group. And now they’re the furthest thing from it. They lost the direction. And to me, that’s why I was such a nut on the subject of establishing what you can be to serve students. You’ve got to be a Christian. You’ve got to be a Bible-believing, a Christ-accepted person, or you’re not qualified to be on the payroll.
JERRY JOHNSTON: I must say that when I think about HBU, it’s a unique Christian university in that there’s a lot of firepower behind it – Stewart Morris, Sr.; Bob McNair, owner of the Texans; Archie Dunham. I mean the names that just are replete throughout this campus, that have built buildings, or they have sponsored all kinds of different programs. There’s no Christian university in America that has that kind of backing. So reflect on those men for me.
STEWART MORRIS: Well, the reflection I would say – there are going to be a lot more names on those buildings. My three children all attended, and now I have grandchildren. And thanks to the Lord – doors are opening. And I even say he shoved us through – and assuredly HBU will continue to blossom and produce leaders. You know, it doesn’t take a whole lot of salt to make a good meal, but it sure is a miserable meal if there ain’t no salt.
JERRY JOHNSTON: And we might also reflect on Dr. Sloan’s leadership to have a task force assembled that started over – nearly two years ago – to take HBU digital, to allow us to replicate the courses online. They are creating what will be hundreds and hundreds of courses from HBU, where students will be not just in Texas, not just in the 50 states – but Dr. Morris, in short order this University will be educating people all over the world, through the technology of the internet.
STEWART MORRIS: HBU is going to be a driving force, even more than it is today, because of the online.
JERRY JOHNSTON: And you, Dr. Morris, are watching the 20,000th graduate in a 50-year history. It’s got to be a special moment for you.
STEWART MORRIS: I know it is – I believe the Lord still controls the world. And I just stand on the side. But it is exciting to me, of what could be – and things can happen.
JERRY JOHNSTON: Dr. Morris, you have vision, and you have faith, and Dr. Sloan has so beautifully articulated the position of a comprehensive Christian university. Those 10 pillars out there – we’ve got to say a word about that before we close. Your father caused those pillars to be preserved from Galveston’s horrific hurricane, the worst natural disaster of all time. Can you summarize the story?
STEWART MORRIS: When they tore down the Galveston courthouse – the only thing left was 16 columns. My father ran during the 1900 storm, when 6,000 people died. So we transported 10 of them here, symbolic of the lasting Word of God, the Bible.
JERRY JOHNSTON: And Dr. Robert Sloan collected colleagues, and put together a vision statement of Houston Baptist University – “The Ten Pillars Vision.” John 14:6 is inscribed in the seal: Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
Dr. Stewart Morris- along with your wife, Joella, who’s now in Heaven – have had such an incredible impact on Houston Baptist University. And we are well aware that this University is poised for unprecedented growth – both residentially, and now through the expanded online, where we will take HBU to every student throughout America’s 50 states, and internationally. Only God knows what’s going to happen in the next five years, 10 years, at HBU.
STEWART MORRIS: Hundred years!