Back to Stories & News

DENVER/April 23, 2018 – Morris Animal Foundation is saddened to learn of the passing of former Foundation trustee Ruth Morris Keesling, daughter of the Foundation’s founder, Dr. Mark L. Morris Sr. The Denver-headquartered foundation is the largest nonprofit organization in the world that funds scientific studies to advance the health and well-being of companion animals and wildlife. Keesling was a lifelong animal lover, from her early days promoting the merits of animal nutrition to her later years in service of animals in Africa and in zoos. She died on April 18, at the age of 88.

“While my aunt’s passing is certainly a sad event for her friends and family, I believe that there is so much to celebrate and honor about the amazing impact Ruth had ensuring that there would never be a time when humans and mountain gorillas did not share this planet,” said David Morris, Vice Chair of Morris Animal Foundation and Ruth’s nephew.

“This is truly sad news. Ruth was dedicated to making the world a better place for all animals, big and small,” said Tiffany Grunert, Acting President and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation. “We mourn her loss, but know the world and animals everywhere are better off thanks to her tireless work.”

Born on April 4, 1930, Keesling learned to love animals at an early age by growing up in the first small animal hospital in the United States, established in New Jersey by her veterinarian father. She even joked that she began answering its phones before she could read. After graduating from the University of Colorado with a degree in journalism, she worked in both advertising and at a newspaper before leaving to help promote Prescription Diet®, her father’s line of therapeutic pet foods.

Keesling was elected as a Founding (life time) Trustee of the Morris Animal Foundation Board of Trustees and served as its treasurer until 1971. Her enthusiasm for wildlife was a driving force behind the establishment of the Wildlife Division of Morris Animal Foundation, which today remains one of the few sources of research dollars to address the health issues of wildlife.

Following the death of Dian Fossey, Keesling assumed the leadership of The Digit Fund, which was dedicated to the conservation, protection and study of mountain gorillas and their habitats in Africa. Over the next three decades, she provided leadership, energy and financial resources to a number of organizations devoted to saving the critically endangered mountain gorilla. In 1985, her commitment resulted in Morris Animal Foundation’s establishment of the Volcano Veterinary Center, later re-named the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a project that works to save the eponymous species from extinction in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2001 she established the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, which funds projects to support the gorillas, their habitat and the local human population.

Keesling also served as trustee of the Denver Zoological Foundation and a member of the University of Colorado’s Director’s Club. She is survived by her husband of 61 years, Thomas, and sons Thomas Jr., James and Frank and their families.