Steve Morrison, a man of great intellect, passion for justice

Steve Morrison during his campaign for mayor, 2010.

Steve Morrison during his campaign for mayor, 2010.

The news being reported by The State today is a terrible shock:

A prominent Columbia attorney who fought for equity in the state’s public education system and left his mark on the community through extensive service to organizations championing the arts, education and South Carolina’s disadvantaged, has died.

Stephen “Steve” Morrison, 64, a partner with Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough in Columbia, became ill and passed away unexpectedly sometime between Saturday night and early Sunday morning, said Jim Lehman, the firm’s managing partner.

Morrison was in New York attending a board meeting when he passed away….

This is a great loss for this community, and for South Carolina.

Steve may be best remembered for leading the legal team that fought in court for two decades to try to get the state to bring poor, rural schools up to par, so that the quality of education a child received wouldn’t be so dependent on the accident of where he or she happened to be born.

I never saw him in court during that lengthy case, but I heard him give presentations on the critical issues involved in speeches to community groups. He was always deeply impressive — not only for the intellectual force of his arguments, but for the passion and commitment that he exuded.

He exhibited these qualities in everything he did. And he did a lot.

By the way, here’s a footnote I wrote in 2010 about my own relationship with Steve:

Finally, a disclaimer — aside from the fact that Steve Morrison and I served together on the Urban League board, he has quite recently served as my attorney. Not a big deal, but I thought you should know. Aside from that, having known him for years, I’ve heard him give quite a few quietly compelling speeches, and asked him why he didn’t run for office. He always shrugged it off — until now.

I wrote that in the context of covering his candidacy for mayor. But back to Steve…

The bottom line is, the cause of justice for all in South Carolina has been set back.

5 thoughts on “Steve Morrison, a man of great intellect, passion for justice

  1. Phillip

    As you might imagine, news of his death spread like wildfire across the Columbia arts scene: all seem to agree he played a major role in the fostering of a cultural scene that has this city “punching way above its weight” in that regard, relative to its modest size. All such organizations and the people involved with them are feeling this as a personal loss, even if (as in my case) they did not know Mr. Morrison personally. Terribly sad news for his family and our community.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s a message from his co-chair at One Columbia for Arts and History:

    Dear Friends,

    By now many of you have heard the tragic news that One Columbia for Arts and History’s co-chair, Steve Morrison, passed away in New York yesterday morning. This is a tremendous loss for our organization, our city and the entire state of South Carolina.

    Steve was always an inspiration, whether speaking in the courtroom, the board room, or over a lively dinner. His love for his community was imparted through every conversation, an action-oriented passion that taught many of us what it really means to be a community servant. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to work with Steve as we co-chaired Mayor Benjamin’s Arts & Historic Preservation Transition Team followed by the formation, along with Barbara Rackes and fellow team members, of what is now One Columbia. Steve taught me so much about patience and efficiency as I learned, in working at his side, how to take an idealistic vision and turn it into a brick-and-mortar organization.

    This was the essence of Steve Morrison. People around the world have visions and ideas, but Steve always turned his visions into action. This was evident when, as a young man, he moved to the Granby Mill area in order to mentor young men who had aged out of the home for troubled boys where he volunteered. We saw Steve’s sense of justice put into action when he worked pro bono as a lead litigator in the landmark fight to bring better funding to the schools of the I-95 corridor. Those of us who knew Steve also saw how much he loved his fellow man when he’d talk about his job in corporate litigation, which sparked a fire in the part of him that constantly craved new learning experiences. And of course, we all know how much Steve loved the arts and culture of Columbia, South Carolina. He knew that this city has a pool of cultural talent and resources that is unparalleled, and wanted to make sure that everyone who lives here had knowledge of those resources and access to them.

    Please keep the Morrison family in your thoughts and prayers in the coming weeks as you remember all that Steve has done for Columbia. Steve leaves a legacy behind that will stay with the arts community for the rest of its days. For that, we at One Columbia for Arts and History thank him, and will work to continue building upon his vision that was vital nourishment to us all.


    Shani Gilchrist
    Co-Chair, One Columbia for Arts and History

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    And here’s what his former rival Steve Benjamin had to say:

    Today, our city lost a true leader. Steve Morrison dedicated his life to fighting for justice and improving the lives of those around him. But he was far more than a fine attorney. He was as passionate about the arts as he was the future of the city he chose to make his home. He was a man who was as quick to laugh as he was to cut through inequality and intolerance. He committed himself to changing the very standard of public education in our State and did so.

    Steve Morrison made a tremendous mark on Columbia and citizens in every field of endeavor. South Carolina has lost one of its finest.

    I extend my deepest sympathies to Steve’s wife Gail, his son Gregory, the entire Morrison family and everyone who was fortunate enough to know him. He was taken from us far too soon and will be deeply missed and we keep them in our prayers.

    Join with me in mourning the loss of a great leader.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    I cannot stop feeling such sadness. I met him a few times, but so often in my efforts, something Steve had done would turn out to be so helpful in making our city and our state better place.

    We need more like him, but his like are few and far between.

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