Dr. Morris

Dr. Naomi Morris, MD, MPH founded our UIC MCH Program here at UIC some 27 years ago.  Check out this story about her (written by Kathleen Spiess, UIC, SPH, Director of Advancement)!


And, to see a picture of Dr. Morris and her family, check out this photo on our SPH homepage (http://www.uic.edu/sph). NOTE: these photos change periodically so this photo will not always be on our homepage.

Building on a Family Tradition of Humanitarianism

UIC School of Public Health Professor Emeritus Naomi Morris gives back to recognize alumni who make a difference.

“Give time, help, knowledge, effort and inspiration to others,” said Naomi Morris, a physician, public health practitioner and teacher who lives by these words.

Dr. Morris has dedicated her career to helping people, and now, she is building on her legacy as a philanthropist.

With a generous contribution to the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, where she once was director of the Community Health Sciences Division and taught for over 30 years, Morris will establish the Naomi Morris Distinguished Alumni Awards.

“It’s important to recognize and honor our alumni and their impact on the health and wellness of our communities,” she said. “I’ve worked with so many dedicated and talented students over the years, and this is the least I can do to distinguish their strengths as public health professionals.”

The awards will be given annually, beginning in fall 2010, to two alumni from the division, one of which will be a graduate of the Maternal and Child Health Program, which Morris established at UIC SPH in 1983. Morris’ story of compassion and giving begins with her parents, who helped shape her life and work.

“My father was a doctor. My mother was a concert pianist,” she said. “Her whole life she gave people pleasure with her playing, but she always said, ‘Don’t be a musician, you won’t be able to support yourself.’ My father always said, ‘Medicine is a good field; no matter what happens in the world, you will always be appreciated and protected.’”

Morris has her parents to thank not only for their insight in her career path, but also their influence in her marriage.

“My father-in-law-to-be had been my dentist and an old friend of my father’s. When I was 16 and Charles [my future husband] was 18, our parents introduced us,” she said. “We discovered we had mutual interests, including nuclear physics. I think that did it. We married four years later.”

Together they attended the University of Colorado School of Medicine, graduated at the top of their class, and eventually moved to Boston. He began his residency in neurology and she trained in pediatrics at the Massachusetts General Hospital. After having her first child, Morris moved to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health, where she gained a deeper understanding of maternal and child health and its impact on public health.

Pregnant with her second child, she enrolled in the Master of Public Health program at the Harvard School of Public Health, where her professor and mentor asked her to evaluate her personal maternity experience at the Boston Lying-in Hospital, one of America’s first maternity hospitals.

After receiving an MPH from Harvard, Morris devoted 17 years of her career to maternal and child health education at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health. When she left UNC, she was chair of the MCH department there.

After moving to Chicago, she quickly made an impact at UIC SPH by establishing the Maternal and Child Health Program, which has been funded by a federal grant ever since.

A community health assessment program at the school was named after her, the Naomi Morris Collaborative, and in 1999, one year after her husband passed away, the American Public Health Association honored her with the Martha May Eliot Award, named for her Harvard mentor.

Morris has touched many lives throughout her career. Even her two sons have chosen the path of medicine and public health. David is a neurologist, and Jonathan, a psychiatrist with an MPH degree, was named by the Governor of Guam an honorary Chamorro (the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands) for the service and medical training he has provided the people of Guam for 17 years.

It was in 1970 in Guam, where Morris’ husband was recruited to head up a laboratory to study Lou Gehrig’s disease, and when she recalls some of her best learning experiences.

“This was a high point in our lives,” she said. “We visited Hawaii, Taipan, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Denmark, Sweden and various European countries. My Harvard classmate from India, now the family planning director for the Punjab, entertained us in her mountain home close to Pakistan. It was all very interesting, educational and so much more.”

Emerging from her parents’ wisdom and teachers’ influence, Morris has undoubtedly created a life of professional and personal accomplishments, traveling around the world educating and learning. The UIC SPH alumni awards in her name are a testament to the many lives she has helped shape along the way.

“We do feel almost at home wherever we go,” Morris said of her travels and humanitarian family traditions. “We are small pieces of a large world, and we have enjoyed contributing to it.”