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Morrison's Support Kept The Lost Colony Flourishing

Emma Neal Morrison, who received an honorary degree from UNC in 1985, helped make sure The Lost Colony was not lost.

Following a hiatus for World War II, the state’s signature outdoor drama faced struggles with attendance and finances. So Morrison and entertainer Kay Kyser ’27 came up with Celebrity Night, an attempt to boost attendance by casting notables of the time in some of the roles. Besides Kyser and his wife, Georgia Carroll, those included UNC football star Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice ’50 and football coaches Carl Snavely of UNC and Wallace Wade of Duke, as well as a Miss North Carolina and Miss America.

Morrison went on to put in more than 50 years of service to the outdoor drama. She and her husband, Fred W. Morrison ’13, expanded its grounds from 18 to 144 acres and built apartments to house the play’s employees. They also established an endowment. For 20 years she was producer of the drama, and for a dozen years she chaired the Roanoke Island Historical Society, the parent organization of the play.

Morrison died at her Laurinburg home, in Scotland County, on Dec. 7. She was 100.

“Mrs. Morrison was one of those unsung heroines of North Carolina,” said William Friday ’48 (LLB), president emeritus of the UNC System. “We’ll miss this great and noble spirit.”

Carl Curnutte, producer and director of The Lost Colony, said in a statement: “It was her devotion and determination that kept the dream alive, ensuring that the story of America’s spiritual birthplace would have its place in history.”

The Morrisons also supported the UNC Press, UNC Television and UNC-Greensboro.

Besides receiving an honorary degree from UNC in 1985 to recognize her efforts, Morrison’s many honors and awards included the Frederick H. Koch Award for Distinguished Service in Theatre Arts from the Carolina Dramatic Association and the North Carolinian Society Award for public service and contributions to the cultural life of North Carolinians. She was made an honorary citizen of Dare County, the home of The Lost Colony and the English settlement it depicts

Morrison lived much of her life in Washington, D.C., where she was president of the Women’s National Democratic Club and the N.C. Society of Washington, chairman of the Invitation Committee of the Inaugural Ball for President Kennedy and a national trustee of the Harry S. Truman Library.

In 1967, North Carolina’s Morrison Award was established in the couple’s honor, becoming one of the highest honors for contributions to the fine arts. Soon after, one of the first awards went to Andy Griffith ’49, who early in his career played Sir Walter Raleigh in the drama.


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