By Carolyn Belardo
On the surface it doesn’t seem like Martha Hamilton and I. Wistar Morris III of Villanova, Pa., have much in common with William Maclure, the father of American geology who preceded them by two centuries. Dig deeper and you’ll hit upon a common vein of passion for science research and public access to science education.
Recognizing their long-time commitment to the mission of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the institution has given the Morrises the William Maclure Award for their support and leadership.
“Like William Maclure, Martha and Wistar have made significant generous contributions to the Academy’s scientific enterprise over the last 20 years,” said Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. “With this award, we recognize their extraordinary philanthropic support and visionary leadership.”
Morris, a senior investment consultant to Pennsylvania Trust, and his wife, Martha, who has been active in the Philadelphia philanthropic scene for 40 years, received the award recently at a recognition dinner at the museum. The award is bestowed periodically to recognize discovery, vision and philanthropy in the spirit of Maclure, a pioneering 18th-century geologist, Academy president and strong advocate for public access to science learning.
Promoting STEM literacy
Morris was founder and CEO of Morris Investment Management, and upon retiring from managing accounts in 2011 he began consulting for the Pennsylvania Trust Company. He served as an Academy trustee from 2005 until 2013, when he became an emeritus trustee. He serves on the boards of many organizations including Drexel University’s Board of Visitors.
“This institution is about science and science education,” said Wistar Morris. “In the macro picture, this country needs all the STEM-literate citizens it can produce.” STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.
“One of the reasons the Academy especially deserves support is because it has talented and inspirational management,” Morris continued. “Both George Gephart and Drexel University President John Fry are great leaders. I’ve interviewed more than 1,000 companies in my career, and I always found great management associated with high rates of return, whether in private business or in the public sphere.”
Mr. and Mrs. Morris also founded The Cotswold Foundation, a private charitable foundation.
Martha Morris has been active with many Greater Philadelphia nonprofit institutions, including the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation Board, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her grandfather, Herbert B. Hungerford, a world authority on water bugs, received the Academy’s Joseph Leidy Award in 1958 for excellence in research and discoveries in the natural sciences.
“I had heard about the Academy from an early age,” said Martha Morris. “I’m so proud of my grandfather. I do have his Leidy medal proudly displayed on my bookshelf.”
The Morris’ connection to the Academy began in earnest in 1997 when they were approached by Martin Snyder, a life-long friend, and made aware of the availability of the Hemmen Collection, a renowned shell collection which included many type specimens from Asia and Eastern Europe. Mr. Morris purchased and then donated it to the Academy, which made its Malacology Collection the preeminent collection for land snails in the U.S.
This turned out to be the first of two historically important shell collections he donated. The other was the Katori Collection, the largest collection that has ever left Japan, thereby enhancing the holdings of the Academy’s Malacology Collection, now the third largest in the world.
Most recently, Mr. and Mrs. Morris donated a major gift to the Academy’s President’s Strategic Initiatives Fund.
And William Maclure (1763-1840)? He was elected to Academy membership in 1812 and served as president from 1817 until his death. He was a primary benefactor, funding many scientific expeditions, helping purchase a new building for the museum, and donating his large collection of books to the Academy library. He also bought a printing press to assist the Academy in producing its research journal.
To read about some of the Academy’s STEM initiatives, click here.