Obituary: Business leader John Morrison was 'humble man'

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 13, 2012 - 9:59 PM

The retired executive was active in the Twin Cities business community.

John Morrison

John Morrison was a seasoned executive from Honeywell Inc. in 1976 when Minneapolis-based Northwestern National Bank tapped him for its top job.

On Thanksgiving Day six years later, his ability to lead would be tested when a fire in the old Donaldsons store in downtown Minneapolis spread to the bank building, essentially destroying it in the costliest fire in Minneapolis history.

"His leadership during the aftermath of the fire was incredible," said Jim Campbell, a longtime colleague. Morrison later praised others at the bank for its success in quickly rebounding from the tragedy. His reluctance to take credit was typical, said Campbell, adding, "At heart he was a very humble man."

Morrison, 89, died of Parkinson's disease April 2. A Twin Cities native, he had lived for the last several years in Vero Beach, Fla.

By the time he retired in 1985, Morrison had served as chairman and CEO of Norwest Corp. (now Wells Fargo). Before he left, Morrison helped select renowned architect Cesar Pelli to design the bank's new downtown headquarters, now known as the Wells Fargo Center.

In addition to the Norwest board, Morrison served on the boards of General Mills, PPG, Northwestern National Life Insurance, Macalester College and several nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities.

Morrison began his college education at Yale University in 1940, but left during his junior year to enlist in the Army Air Corps. He served as a flight trainer and eventually flew transport aircraft over the dangerous "Hump" supply route from Burma to China. At the end of World War II he returned to Yale and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1946. He then earned an MBA from Harvard University as a Baker Scholar, the business school's highest academic honor.

His son, Jack Morrison, said his father had a lifelong love of music. "He had a lovely singing voice," Jack Morrison said. When Morrison was at Yale he was a member of the legendary Whiffenpoofs a cappella choral group.

"What he really liked was to take old tunes and put new lyrics to them that could be performed at parties and celebrations. He was really good at it," his son said.

Morrison also was good at sports. He played soccer at Yale and loved skiing in the Canadian Rockies.

For most of his life he was a single-digit handicap golfer who once had a hole-in-one at Augusta National Golf Club. "It was on the par-three course, not the main course, but still it was 150 yards," his son said. Jack remembers seeing his father score a double-eagle on the third hole at Woodhill Country Club in Wayzata one weekend.

Morrison was preceded in death by his first wife, Charlotte (Chy) Lewis, and his second wife, Jane Hayes. In addition to his son, Morrison is survived by a daughter, Helen; two brothers, Clinton and Angus; Jane Hayes' three children, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will take place at 4:30 p.m. May 17 at Woodhill.

Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723

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