Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The story below appeared in Sunday's Charleston Gazette. Holmes Morrison, former Charleson Chamber of Commerce chairman, will be receiving the 2008 Spirit of the Valley Award.

Longtime bank chief wins Spirit of Valley

By Bob Schwarz
Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When One Valley Bank was gobbling up smaller banks across West Virginia and into Virginia, Holmes Morrison was guiding all those mergers and acquisitions.

"Holmes was the sort of guy who others wanted to call back," recalled Phyllis Arnold. "He was easy to talk with. And he didn't play hardball negotiating."

Morrison listened well, Arnold said. He understood the concerns of the people across the table. He found common ground.

From 1985 to 2000, Morrison was president and CEO of what became One Valley Bancorp, and after the 2000 merger with BB&T, he stayed on as chairman and CEO of BB&T-West Virginia for two years.

Morrison operated by consensus when possible, Arnold said. He was able to juggle three or four projects that might overwhelm someone else, Arnold said. "He would not let the minutia of the day overwhelm the actions needed on major, strategic goals."

He laughed a lot, and liked to mix practical jokes into the workday, Arnold said. Share a meal with him, and by the end of the meal, he worked his paper napkin to shreds, she added. "Holmes looks as smooth and calm as anyone. But under the water - like they say about ducks - he is moving as fast as he can."

Except for a one-year break when he had to rotate off the board, Morrison has led the University of Charleston's governing board since 1993.

"He's passionate about the role the university can play in the community and the region," said UC President Ed Welch, who took the job in 1989 when UC was going through a near-death experience. (Since then Welch has guided day-to-day operations as UC rebuilt much of its campus, boosted enrollment, added a football team and opened a pharmacy school.)

Morrison has kept the ship steady during a time of tumultuous change, Welch said. "His approach to things is reasoned. He doesn't just grasp at wild straws. When he champions a cause, others have confidence it is a just and right thing to do."

Because of all he has done for the community, Morrison is the 2008 Spirit of the Valley Award honoree, given annually by the YMCA of Kanawha Valley. The selection committee consisted of Mayor Danny Jones; United Way of Central West Virginia Chairman Jim Sutherland; YMCA of Kanawha Valley Chairman J. Michael Forbes; Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation Chairman Henry Harmon; Charleston Area Alliance Chairman Jack Rossi; and all previous Spirit of the Valley honorees.

Morrison will be honored with a luncheon Aug. 20 at the Embassy Suites hotel. The proceeds go to the YMCA's youth scholarship fund, except for $15,000 that goes to Morrison's designated charity - UC. Tickets start at $150 for the luncheon, which raised $233,000 last year. Call LeeAnn Doyle at 340-3540.

At the meeting when Morrison was going to take over as UC board chairman, the board asked Welch to tear up his old contract and sign a new one for a longer stay. Welch was reluctant. "I had reservations about the board's participation in the life of the institution," Welch recalled.

"The then-board chair said, "What's the next item of business,' and Holmes said, "Wait a minute, we can't move on without taking that seriously and talking about it," Welch recalled. "And out of that came a statement of expectations for every board member. We developed a process for evaluating board members, which led to some nonrenewals. That was a pivotal moment for shaping the board and the board taking ownership of the institution."

"He's an easy person to talk with. He likes to hear about what you're doing," said Dan Martin, a longtime friend who once worked at One Valley and later co-owned Mullens Motor Dodge in Parkersburg.

Dick Bradford, Morrison's tennis doubles partner for many years, said Morrison was fiercely competitive but never got mad at him on the court. Jennifer Willets, now a banker but once Morrison's secretary, said she saw Morrison get aggravated just once, and that lasted just 30 seconds.

"Running a bank is a very serious thing," Willets said. "He made it look easy. He could look at something and analyze it quickly and figure out a means to an end."

Morrison is a past chairman of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce, past chairman of the West Virginia Roundtable, and past president of the Charleston Rotary Club. He is driven to succeed, friends say.

Walk onto the ground floor of BB&T's Charleston offices, and the employees greet him by first name. "I never adapted well to Mr. Morrison," Morrison said.

He makes the coffee every morning, said his wife, Antoinette, who married him 37 years ago when she was 21. "He makes the bed. I go out jogging and come home and find the bed made, which is a nice surprise."

Holmes, 67, isn't handy around the house, but likes to raise tomatoes, Antoinette said. "I'm the one who owns the tool chest. I had to learn how to replace the sprayer at the sink once. I was always the one who cleaned the gutters because of his back."

He reads the sports pages avidly, Antoinette said. He reads both Charleston newspapers and the Wall Street Journal daily and sometimes The New York Times. He checks out the WV Newsline regularly on the computer.

The two divide the cooking duties, Antoinette said. "He likes to cook. He cooks basic things but cooks them well. The good news is he likes dogs. We wouldn't be married if he didn't."

The Morrisons spend five or six weeks every summer at their lakeside camp in southern Ontario. "We read a lot," Antoinette said. "He kayaks, we canoe, we have a little Sunfish [a tiny sailboat]. We go out on the lake with it. We bike. He likes to sit on the dock and watch the wildlife."

Holmes is a member of the executive committee of The Orme School in Mayer, Ariz., where the headmaster directed a summer camp that Morrison remembers fondly. "I had some good mentors growing up," Morrison said. "The camp director taught us that when you leave a campsite, leave it better than you found it."


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