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Professor Emeritus Walter Morris-Hale Dies

By Kathryn Arnone '85

Professor Walter Morris-Hale was an American original. Born in the Depression, coming of age in the somnolent 1950s and reaching maturity in the turbulent 1960s, he blazed his own path at every step. As a youth, he responded to the mysteries of the Catholic liturgy and the kindness of his elementary school teachers, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, by converting from his family’s faith to Catholicism, never wavering from his religious constancy throughout his life. As a young man, he proudly entered the Army to serve the country that had failed to grant this young African-American his full rights of citizenship. After the service, he matriculated at the University of California, Berkley and commenced his lifetime of scholarship, paradoxically paying for his education by dint of his beauty, becoming one of the most successful African-American models of the time. He turned to Europe for his post-graduate degrees, receiving his master's degree at the University of Stockholm in Sweden and his Ph.D. at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Along the way, Walter befriended all he met, from the illustrious counts and dukes of Europe, the talented musicians and writers of America, the nascent leaders of Africa, to everyone in between.

In 1968 Morris-Hale arrived at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. to begin his 33-year career of teaching government, focusing on the study of multi-ethnic societies. He traveled extensively through Europe and Africa to conduct his scholarly research, studying at the University of East Africa, the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Makerere University in Uganda. He guest lectured at the University of Witwatersand in the then Union of South Africa and at several universities in the United States. His scholarship culminates in his book, Conflict and Harmony in Multi-Ethnic Societies: an International Perspective.

While Professor Morris-Hale excelled at scholarship, his true forte was teaching, as evidenced by his Smith College Medal for teaching. His style of teaching demanded the utmost from each student, never yielding to mediocrity or relativism, always encouraging his students to challenge themselves to achieve excellence, always providing the example of his own effort and excellence as a model. And how his students achieved! They became museum directors, politicians, teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, judges, artists, business executives, professors and writers. Each of his students is his legacy.

Professor Morris-Hale retired from Smith College in 2001. His retirement celebrations reflected his unique personality: at the black-tie dinner that Smith President Ruth Simmons hosted, Walter’s honored guests included his cherished students, colleagues from disparate college departments, his long time friend Bobby Short as the surprise entertainment, and most importantly, his treasured friends among the faculty dining staff and the college groundskeepers. He then moved to Los Angeles to care for his beloved mother, Vivian Rice, until her death in January 2005. He remained until his unexpected death committed to the practice of his faith, to his philanthropic ventures, to his ardent and thoughtful patriotism and to communicating with his former students.

Morris-Hale died suddenly at his home in Los Angeles on March 30, 2006. He is survived by his beloved stepmother, Larzette Hale Wilson of Logan, Utah, his beloved surrogate son, Armando Carbajal of Los Angeles, three half sisters, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held at a later date at Smith College.


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