Remembering John B. Morrill, Emeritus Professor of Biology (1929-2010)

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(August 12, 2010) — New College of Florida lost a legendary figure among its faculty this week when John B. Morrill, Emeritus Professor of Biology, passed away following a long and courageous battle with liver cancer. Morrill died on Monday, August 9, in Sarasota.  His longtime companion, Nancy Ferraro, and his daughter, Sandy Morrill, were close by during his final week. He was 80 years old.

Noted for his keen intellect as well as his unwavering devotion to New College and its students, Professor Morrill’s impact on scientific study and research at the College spanned more than 40 years and influenced an entire generation of graduates who went to earn national distinction in biology, medicine and environmental studies.  He also leaves a lasting legacy of environmental research and ecological studies that impacted policy and development decisions over the years on the southwest coast of Florida from Sanibel Island to Tampa Bay.

“John was the quintessential New College teacher — smart, demanding, and completely on top of his field,” said New College President Mike Michalson in reflecting upon Morrill’s passing.  “He never made demands on anyone that he did not also make on himself.  The testimony of his own former students, including an impressive number of world-class scientists, speaks eloquently of all that he meant to this place over so many years.”

A native of Chicago and graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa, Morrill earned his M.S. in botany from Iowa State University in 1953 and his Ph.D. in zoology from Florida State University in 1958. Following faculty appointments at Wesleyan University and The College of William and Mary, he joined the faculty at New College in 1967.

From 1967 until his retirement, Morrill bolstered the College’s programming in biology, pre-med and environmental studies and earned distinction at both the regional and national levels. He played an integral role in furthering the development of undergraduate research programs in the sciences and encouraged students to participate in conferences at both the state and national levels.  He also served as the second director of the College’s Environmental Studies Program and developed the model for that program that is still in use today.

In honor of his distinguished career, the College named Morrill an Emeritus Professor of Biology in 2000.

Twice he was honored as one of the Outstanding Educators in America (1969, 1974).  He was awarded New College’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 1980 and was elected as a Fellow to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1981. He also was an elected member of the American Society of Zoologists, the American Society of Cell Biology and the Society for Developmental Biology, among others.

For his commitment to New College students, including his willingness to use his own earnings as a consultant to help fund their undergraduate research, Morrill was featured in an article in Science magazine in January 1998 entitled “Scientists Who Fund Themselves.”

Provost Charlene Callahan, who served on the faculty with Morrill for more than 25 years, says that John made a lasting impression on her, both as a teacher and an administrator.

“John was one of the first faculty members I met upon arriving at New College.  Although he had a reputation for being gruff, somehow I was spared his harder edge, while benefiting greatly from his candid advice and kind guidance. To me, John was archetypal New College. He was brilliant, willing to color outside the lines, able to combine innovation and exceptionally high standards, and demanding yet caring.  Above all, John always put students first.”

Despite the gruff exterior that Morrill sometimes presented to the public, faculty members and former students remember him as having a playful side as well.

“A favorite trick of John’s was to tell students who came looking for Professor Morrill that he was just a one of the janitors and didn’t know where the professor was,” said Jono Miller, who along with his wife Julie Morris, studied under Morrill in the 1970s and went on to become co-directors of the College’s Environmental Studies Program. “John would then ask the unsuspecting students what they had heard about the professor.  I think he probably gained a lot of information in that way.”

In honor of Professor Morrill and his love for New College and its students, John’s family has asked that memorial donations be made to the New College Foundation’s Student Research Fund.  Donations can be made by contacting the Foundation at (941) 487-4800; email [email protected].

A celebration of life for Professor John B. Morrill is planned but a date has not yet been determined.  New College will notify members of the College community via our website as soon as details are available.


For additional coverage on the passing of New College of Florida Emeritus Professor of Biology John B. Morrill, we invite you to click the following links:

Article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Obituary from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Editorial from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

Online guestbook:

Memorial Facebook page:

New College Facebook Fans Page with additional postings:!/newcollegeofflorida?ref=ts