“He rejoiced particularly in the flora of Western North Carolina – his birthplace...Robert Haywood Morrison lives on through the Foundation’s work..” - Dr. Cynthia Tyson, Foundation Head
At first glance, an apartment building in downtown Charlotte and plant conservation in the North Carolina mountains would appear to have nothing in common. But, thanks to the Robert Haywood Morrison Foundation, the two are very closely connected.
The Foundation gave the Conservancy the building, which was sold to generate money to fund the Robert Haywood Morrison Plant Conservation Initiative. That’s fitting, according to Conservancy Associate Director Fred Annand who knew Morrison.
According to Annand and Morrison’s longtime companion Dr. Cynthia Haldenby Tyson, who now heads the Foundation Board, Morrison was a Renaissance Man defined. Born in Hickory, he went on to be a journalist, professor and a businessman. He moved to Charlotte in the 1960s where he became a successful real estate investor.
He remained deeply connected to his childhood home. “He rejoiced particularly in the flora of Western North Carolina – his birthplace,” Dr. Tyson says. “Robert Haywood Morrison lives on through the Foundation’s work. What he acquired through prudent business transactions may now be used to support his interests and values.”
Morrison’s vision has made a real difference in Western North Carolina. He bought and protected World’s Edge in Rutherford County and Pineola Bog in Avery County. Both sites are now owned by the State of North Carolina. World’s Edge is part of Chimney Rock State Park. Pineola Bog is a state natural area. Both are home to many rare plant species, which is why Morrison protected them.
Annand remembers Morrison with fondness as the rare landowner who understands the value of his property’s plants. Annand spent time with Morrison at World’s Edge and Pineola Bog. “He was a very bright articulate man who obviously had a passion for botany and consequently that’s why over the years he invested in properties that provided habitat for rare flora,” he explains. “He protected them during his lifetime. We were very fortunate to help the state acquire them.”
Tyson is pleased that others can enjoy what Morrison protected. “How fortunate we are to help The Nature Conservancy preserve those properties and thereby his boyhood recollections and adventures that matured into wisdom to preserve those places.”
Thanks to the Foundation’s recent gift, more of that rare mountain flora will be protected – connecting that Charlotte apartment building to mountain conservation in perpetuity. “It is important to note that helping The Nature Conservancy need not always be through a gift of land,” says Dr. Tyson. “Not everyone has land, but many people have other resources, which the Conservancy can receive as a gift, sell and use the resultant funds to acquire remarkable land.”
In addition to carrying on Morrison’s conservation legacy, Tyson says that love of North Carolina’s special places is an important part of her own character. A native of North Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom, Tyson grew up with a deep appreciation of nature. “As a child we went for nature walks. We were taught the name of the flowers, the grasses, the trees,” she says. “We watched the little streams and the life that inhabited them. We were taught to appreciate the grandeur of nature and also the delicacy of nature. From those experiences grew a lifetime of interest.”
Her career eventually brought her as an academic to the United States – a Fulbright scholar who taught English Language and Medieval Literature. She was Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer at Queens University of Charlotte. For many years, she was president of Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. She now makes her permanent home in Charlotte. “I was massively stimulated by life in North Carolina and exploration of its contrasting settings: the mountains to the west, sweeping to the majesty of the coastline on the east,” she explains. She loves a good hike and recently spent time with Associate Director of Philanthropy Mike Horak and her children atop the Conservancy’s Big Yellow Mountain Preserve, which lies close to Morrison’s beloved Pineola Bog.
Her contact with Annand and Horak and the Conservancy is born out of love for Morrison and his native state. “Fred Annand and Mike Horak are my team. I love their company, their ideas, their knowledge, their experience and their passion for their work is contagious.
So, that’s how an apartment building in Charlotte can become a plant conservation initiative. Isn’t that a miracle?”November 16, 2011
Debbie Crane is Director of Communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.