In memoriam: James F. Morris, M.D. (1922 – 2017)

Jan. 23, 2018

The OHSU School of Medicine announces with great sadness that James "Jim" F. Morris, M.D., professor emeritus of medicine, died Sept. 30, 2017. He was 95. Dr. Morris was a beloved friend, student mentor and an important contributor to the educational mission of the OHSU School of Medicine and VA Portland Health Care System for nearly 40 years.

"Jim was an icon at the VA for many years, leading the pulmonary section and teaching scores of students, residents, fellows, and faculty," said OHSU School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson. "We are all grateful for his service to education, and to the veterans."

Dr. Morris received his medical degree from the University of Rochester in New York in 1948, where he later completed a fellowship in medical bacteriology. Following medical school, Dr. Morris joined the United State Armed Forces as a medical officer, where he provided compassionate and expert medical care for service members. He was honorably discharged with the rank of major.

Dr. Morris joined the VA Portland as section chief of pulmonary and critical care in 1957 and held a joint faculty appointment in the OHSU School of Medicine. Following his retirement, Dr. Morris received the prestigious rank of professor emeritus from the OHSU School of Medicine, Department of Medicine.

Dr. Morris loved working as a pulmonologist, though he was board-certified to practice in pulmonary medicine, ethics and infectious disease. He is remembered for his significant scientific contributions to the advancement of spirometry as well as his personable nature, quick-witted humor and tremendous love of the outdoors. Especially loved by the VA intensive care unit nurses, Dr. Morris was appreciative, patient, and treated them with enormous respect.

"As a humorist, he had few equals for Don Rickles-style quips," said William Holden, M.D. R '76, professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine. "In rounds with the house staff, when he asked them a question, he would often reply (if he agreed with their answer)—'that's a suppository.' His humor could be biting, and many felt the sting of his ability to use it, but to colleagues, house staff, and, above all, nurses it was worth the sting, as it was clear that his intellect was truly remarkable, and exposure to it was worth whatever sting it caused."

Dr. Holden added, Dr. Morris "rode a bike well into his late 70s and hiked almost every hiking trail in Oregon well into his 80s —despite having lost most of his right upper lung lobe to tuberculosis after contracting that illness as a house officer in the New York public hospital system."

The physicians and nurses who contracted TB in training in New York City were sent to Lake Saranac and the Trudeau Sanatorium, then the world center for the 'rest and high altitude' treatment for TB. During his stay at the sanatorium, Dr. Morris was proud to have reportedly read a book each day for an entire year.

Tom Cooney, M.D., M.A.C.P., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, said, "Dr. Morris' humor could have a definite sting, but he was an equal opportunity comedian, who spared no one but also never singled anyone out. And the twinkle in his eye and the slight hint of a smile made clear it was all in good fun. His monologues at our annual resident/fellow awards banquets were legendary."

During his career in academic medicine, Dr. Morris made significant and lasting scientific contributions, including landmark work in the advancement of spirometry. He was an active member of numerous professional organizations, including the Society of American Bacteriology, the American Thoracic Society, the Northwest Society for Clinical Research, and the Western Tuberculosis Conference, of which he served as president for four years   

Dr. Morris loved to ride his bicycle, hike, run, kayak and camp. Much of his free time was spent with close friends and family, who say they will miss his wisdom, generosity and medical advice.

He is survived by his nephew, Robert Morris; his wife, Laura; and their two daughters, Amanda and Kelly, of Stewartsville, New Jersey. He is also survived by his niece, Carole Colt, of Ashland, Oregon. He was preceded in death by his sister-in-law, Kay, in 2013. His older brother, his only sibling, died approximately one month after Dr. Morris' death.

Donations in Dr. Morris' memory may be made to the James F. Morris Endowment Fund at Ohio Wesleyan University.