August 16, 2016 – Dr. Mark L. Morris Sr. was a visionary veterinarian who foresaw the need for dedicated scientific research if the practice of veterinary medicine was to move forward. It was to advance this endeavor in improving animal health that, in 1948, he founded Morris Animal Foundation. Through the Foundation, and his breakthroughs in nutrition, leadership of the American Animal Hospital Association, and so many other veterinary achievements, Dr. Morris became an iconic figure for generations of veterinarians.
What some people may not realize is that Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr. continued his father’s groundbreaking research, and was a tireless champion of the Foundation until his death in 2007.
During his career, Dr. Mark L. Morris Jr. didn’t just follow in his father’s footsteps, he sprinted up the path with his own brand of creativity and passion for improving the lives of animals. In 1963, he received his PhD in pathology because, at the time, earning a PhD in animal nutrition was impossible – no graduate programs existed in this specialty.
After graduation, he came back into the family business where he took over his father’s nutrition research laboratory. There, he helped develop the modern-day Science Diet for companion animals. Expanding on the four original prescription diets developed by his father, Dr. Morris went on to help develop hundreds of new products, providing innovative and quality diets for not only dogs and cats but for multiple species, from ferrets to seals. His prolific work helped provide seed money and drive and grow the Morris Animal Foundation endowment. Today, that endowment continues to support the organization and its animal health funding goals.
In addition to his laboratory work, the younger Dr. Morris also joined the Foundation’s Board of Trustees after graduation. He helped create and personally led the Scientific Advisory Board – which many consider the engine of the Foundation – for all animals, and all species for decades. He was instrumental in recruiting scientists to join the Scientific Advisory Board (of which there are now three) to review grant requests in an impartial and unbiased way. It’s a model that’s been duplicated by other institutions and remains highly respected in the scientific community.
Dr. Morris also had a passion for teaching. He lectured around the world to practicing veterinarians and veterinary students. Cynthia Morris, his daughter and current board member of Morris Animal Foundation, recalls seeing her dad lecture at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“They were long days. Dad would be given one day to lecture on the importance of nutrition to animal health,” said Cynthia Morris. “That was all the training veterinary students got on nutrition back in the 1960s and 70s.”
Dr. Morris went on to change this dynamic by co-authoring the first definitive textbook in small animal nutrition, Small Animal Clinical Nutrition. He tirelessly promoted the benefits of proper nutrition to scores of veterinarians. He also was a founding member of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, enabling veterinarians to pursue advanced training in animal nutrition and health, something not available when Dr. Morris pursued his own graduate degree.
The impact of Dr. Mark Morris Jr.’s legacy on Morris Animal Foundation and the world of animal health is undeniable. His passion for teaching is echoed today through the Foundation’s investment in training the next generation of animal health researchers through its Future Scientists Initiative. His ability to bring veterinary scientists from all disciplines to the table to review and recommend funding for the best science to advance animal health remains the cornerstone of the Foundation. The growth of the Foundation’s endowment under his careful eye helped widen its scope. A debt of gratitude goes to Dr. Mark Morris Jr., whose legacy continues to improve the lives of animals around the world.