Sixty years later, N.C. judge receives MC degree 

Sixty years later, N.C. judge receives MC degree 

Aug. 5, 2020

One of Maryville College’s most recent graduates began his studies in business administration at the College more than six decades ago, but he did not complete the requirements for a bachelor’s degree with the class of 1961 as originally intended. Now, however, Fred Gilbert Morrison Jr. can say with pride that he finished what he started at the school that has meant so much to him then and through all the intervening years.

On June 17, 2020, in Courtroom A of the Wake County Courthouse in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Dr. Brian Ralph, president of William Peace University in Raleigh, presented the Maryville College diploma to Judge Fred Morrison ’61 on behalf of then-Maryville College President Tom Bogart, due to restricted travel. 

“I love Maryville College and the days I spent there, so I wanted the diploma,” Morrison said. “This diploma fills a hole in my resume! I don’t like to leave any endeavor unfinished.”

He added, “Now my obit can say I’m a Maryville College graduate!” 

A winding path

Morrison had a good reason for not obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 1961. After three years at Maryville College, he was accepted into Wake Forest Law School in North Carolina after meeting a few conditions and began his studies there in 1960. He went on to have a distinguished career as a lawyer and a judge, and still works as a Senior Administrative Law Judge in the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings in Raleigh.

The path he originally intended to pursue was to follow his father and grandfather into the furniture business. The Newport, Tenn., native worked at the family’s wood turning plant during the summers and had almost decided to keep working rather than attend college; however, the summer after graduating from Cocke County High School, his father, Fred G. Morrison Sr., took him to visit several college campuses.

“He put me in the car one day and we started out in Knoxville, went by the University of Tennessee,” Morrison recalled. “Then he took me down to Tennessee Wesleyan where he had gone to school, and we came back up, and Maryville College was the last stop. Maryville was my favorite. I was a Volunteer fan in football, but that school was awful large for a little fellow from Newport! 

“My daddy was born in Maryville, my grandmother was from there, and my uncle Ed Harmon was there at the time,” he added. “Maryville was 40 miles down a scenic route from Newport, near the Smoky Mountains, and I was sold on Coach Lombe Honaker. I was a baseball player, and he met me and walked me around the field.”

Morrison ended up playing varsity baseball for all three years at the College. 

In the summer of 1960, only five credits away from receiving his bachelor’s degree, Morrison’s path diverged again. 

“When I left Maryville College at the end of my junior year, my family had moved from Newport, Tenn., to Thomasville, N.C.,” Morrison said. “I was planning to go home and work in the furniture plant that summer, and go back to Maryville, finish my degree, and work in the plant. You know, business was not very good that summer, and I had never really bought in that that was what I wanted to do with my life. So I started thinking about law school.”

With Thomasville only a 30-minute drive away from Wake Forest Law School, Morrison decided early that summer to talk with the dean about entering law school after he received his bachelor’s degree.

“I had a copy of my transcript, and the dean talked to me a good while,” Morrison said.

The dean told him that based on his transcript, if he had a course in American literature and U.S. history with a ‘B’ or better in each course, plus made an acceptable grade on the law aptitude test (LSAT), he could enter law school without having his bachelor’s degree.

“At that time, Wake Forest College had a program that, if you were a student at Wake Forest and you went three years undergraduate, you could then go into law school. After your first year in law school, if you passed, you got an undergraduate degree, then two years later, you would get your law degree. The dean said, ‘We can’t do that for you, but we can let you in after three years if you do this.’”

Morrison made his decision driving back to Thomasville.

“High Point College is just five miles away, so I went over there and they had the two courses,” he said. “So I took those and I took the LSAT, and the dean called me and I was accepted.”

The journey almost ended when Morrison did not report to law school on the day he was scheduled.

“Right in the middle of the afternoon, Dean Weathers called me and he said, ‘Young man, I’ve been waiting on you, and you’ve been admitted, and all you have to do is come over and register.’ I told him, ‘I’ve been thinking about it, and I really don’t have the funds available right now.’ The dean said, ‘I’m going to be in my office till 5 o’clock. If you want to go to law school, you come on over here and we’ll be concerned about the money when you register.’”

Thanks to a small scholarship, student loans and Morrison’s part-time jobs, he was able to graduate from Wake Forest with his law degree in 1963.

“So that’s how I came to not go back to Maryville College,” Morrison said. “It was saving a year and at that time, it was saving some money.”  

Distinguished career

Morrison began his career as an associate attorney (1963-1965) in Thomasville, then board attorney for Thomasville City Board of Education and solicitor in Thomasville Recorder’s Court, now known as District Court (1965-1969); legal counsel to the governor of the state of North Carolina in Raleigh (1969-1974); executive director, North Carolina Inmate Grievance Commission (1974-1981), Raleigh; private legal practice/governmental consultant (1981-1986); and administrative law judge, N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, Raleigh (1986 to present).

Morrison said, “When they created the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings with administrative law judges, I was one of the first two appointed, March 1, 1986, and I’ve been there ever since,” he said. “That’s 34 years. I’m going on 52 years in state service.”

Morrison has been active in his community, as well, serving with the Jaycees at the local, state and national levels, and being an active member of his church, First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh.

“At the church, they got me in the men’s Bible class, and being a lawyer, they expect you ought to be a teacher,” he said. “I did teach some, but there were a lot of men – elderly like I am now – and you had to be careful teaching because they had been knowing the Bible twice as long as I had. So I signed up over at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and I was admitted for a Master of Divinity degree,” obtained in 1990. “I would go at night just to take the courses.”

Through all those years, Morrison never forgot Maryville College and the good memories of living in the dorm, having family-style meals at the dining hall, playing intramural football with fellow students, and the kindness and expertise of the professors and staff at the College. He kept in touch with the College and its people, and with the assistance of his wife, Carolyn (who, sadly, passed away July 26), and others, he has created a small scholarship to help other students as he was helped.

The one thing he lacked, until this year, was an official Bachelor of Arts degree.  

Special circumstances

Morrison sent his transcript and additional information to Maryville College, and upon investigation, Academic Affairs determined that he lacked only five hours by the catalog of 1957 under which he entered the College. Three of those were in senior thesis, then called independent study. His Wake Forest law school course work in contracts, personal property, labor law and corporations more than met his remaining hours requirement, per the division chair and the coordinator of the Business major. The varied selection of judicial opinions which he supplied to the College, along with a short biographical statement explaining his general approach to law, government, business and individuals, were acceptable in lieu of the second half of a senior thesis.

Dr. Dan Klingensmith, vice president and dean of the College, said, “After all these years we’re delighted to be able to award Judge Morrison an official degree. His case is really pretty unique—although he left the College without finishing, he later took a lot of further courses elsewhere, including law school, that directly covered requirements in his major. Not many people get into law school without a college degree! And of course as a judge, he has done quite a lot of deeply researched, well-nuanced writing. So there was no problem covering his remaining requirements, but it’s an unusual path to a four-year degree. I’m honored that for all these years he has remained engaged with the College.”

Morrison offers this advice to students: “Find something that you enjoy getting up and doing. People ask me why I haven’t retired. I’m 80 years old. I will retire when I wake up some morning and I don’t want to go to the office and do what I’ve loved to do.

“They need to find a place they don’t dread going to – in addition, of course, to providing for themselves and their families and socializing with fellow employees. Make the most of your days, do what makes you happy and what you feel like is not only helping you but helping others. It doesn’t matter what that is.”

He praised Maryville College and the caring people associated with it.

“They never forgot me, and I never forgot them. It’s been a longstanding relationship. They’re good people,” he said. “I appreciate the professors at Maryville. That dean at Wake Forest had to know about Maryville College or he wouldn’t have said they’d let me in after three years. That’s why I appreciate Maryville, and I wish them well.” 

By Linda Braden Albert for Maryville College 

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”