Helen Louise (Johnston) Morrison

EMERYVILLE, CA. – Helen Morrison of Emeryville, California, passed away June 2, 2013.

She was born June 30, 1923 in Marquette, Michigan, the only child of Raymond and Naemi (Olson) Johnston. Early on, Helen was encouraged by her close-knit extended family to embrace her artistic sensibilities and love of reading. (Lydia Olson, for whom the library at Northern Michigan University is named, was one of her aunts.) She enjoyed hours spent arranging dollhouse furniture and studying her aunt’s architectural magazines, and at the age of ten she decided she would work in an architect’s office when she grew up. Helen graduated from Graveraet High School at the age of 16, after which she attended Northern Michigan University then transferred to the University of Michigan where she studied interior design, graduating with honors in 1945.

She went to work as a designer at the renowned Saarinen, Swanson & Saarinen architectural firm in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 1946 she married her late former husband, Murdo Morrison, an architect at the firm. They moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and began to grow and raise their family. While continuing her work as an interior designer, Helen also shared her love of the arts with the community by founding a social movie club that screened art house and independent films. The family relocated to Oakland, California, in 1965, where she became an active and lifelong member of the Art League of the East Bay as well as local AAUW and PEO Chapters. She continued her interior design practice until she was well into her 80s.

Her independent spirit was marked by a love of travel ignited on her first tour of Europe in 1975. She would go on to amass a collection of several thousand photographs she’d taken to document her adventures with family and friends on many subsequent trips. Meanwhile, her hometown of Marquette remained close to her heart, and she returned with her children, and eventually grandchildren, for annual summer vacations – first to the family camp at Buckroe, and in later years to Middle Island Point. She renovated that cottage over the past 30 years, commissioning local artist Pat Virch to paint rosemaling patterns exemplifying her Swedish heritage throughout the house.

Helen Morrison will be lovingly remembered as a strong and opinionated woman who credited her children for being her life’s greatest accomplishment. She was always, and will remain, an inspiration to those who survive her. In her own words, “Find the thing that really means something to you and be ambitious when you go after it.”

She is survived by her daughter Paula Morrison of Emeryville, CA; son Reed Morrison of Osterville, MA and New York, NY; daughter Anne Morrison Rabe (Ronald) of Lafayette, CA; granddaughter Alexandra Morrison Rabe of New York, NY; grandsons William and Alexander Morrison of Osterville, MA, and niece Helene Renaud (Jack) of Livermore, CA.