John S. Morris

Father of Harvard resident, minister, college president

John Morris. (Courtesy photo)

John Selwyn Morris, 93, of Hamilton, New York, passed away in his sleep Saturday, May 4, 2019, at his home.

He was born July 2, 1925 in Tonapandy, Wales, a son of coal miner Jenkin Morris and Hannah M. (Williams) Morris. He was educated in Tonapandy before being drafted into the Royal Air Force in November 1943. He served as a radar mechanic in No. 48 Squadron in several stations, including the UK and Chittagong, and with No. 110 Squadron in Hong Kong before his discharge in 1947.

In 1947, John entered the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (Cardiff University), receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1951. He received his master’s degree from Cambridge University Westminster Theological College in 1953 and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in April 1954.

On April 10, 1954, John married Enid Eiry Walters in Ponteberem, Wales, and they emigrated to the United States later that year. While serving as pastor of the Vernon and Vernon Center Presbyterian churches, John became a part-time instructor in philosophy and religion at Colgate University in Hamilton. In 1957, John received his master’s degree from Colgate and, in 1961, his doctorate from Columbia University.

During his time at Colgate, from 1960 to 1979, John rose from instructor to professor of the humanities and later to provost and dean of faculty, as well as acting president. He was deeply involved in many changes there, including the introduction of coeducation and the school’s CORE and January programs. From 1979 until retiring in 1990, John was president of Union College and chancellor of Union University. During his presidency he continued to teach undergraduate philosophy and religion and oversaw initiatives including the launch of a general education curriculum, the re-establishment of the geology department, the decision to make the SAT test optional for applicants, and term abroad programs in China and Japan.

John received honorary degrees from Hartwick College in 1979, Elmira College in 1990, and, Skidmore College in 1991. He served as a valued member of the Skidmore College Board of Trustees from 1986 until 2017. Most recently, he taught in the Lifelong Learning Program at Colgate and preached in an interim role at several Hamilton-area churches. He delivered his last sermon, “The Last Words” on Easter 2019 at the First Baptist Church in Hamilton.

John was predeceased by his beloved wife, Enid, on February 14, 2018. He is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Paul John and Susan Feeney Morris of Harvard.

A memorial service will be held at a later date and time to be announced. Interment will be private in Colgate Cemetery. Contributions in his memory may be made to the John S. Morris Memorial Fund at Colgate University. To send a condolence and sign the Book of Memories online, go to

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