Transformative gift supports scholars

By Peter Jurich, Waisman Science Writer

The Morse Society, a group of Waisman graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, is getting a surprisingly early financial boost from its founders.

Founded by Dick Morse, MD, a UW alum and retired child psychiatrist, and his lifelong partner, Lawrence M. Connor, MSW, a retired social worker, the Morse Society is focused on training and research in childhood mental health and developmental disabilities. In 2012, Morse and Connor established a transformational multimillion dollar planned estate gift (now worth an estimated $15 million). The two recently decided to establish an endowment with a $1 million donation to benefit the scholars and their research right now, enabling them to see the impact of their gift during their lifetimes.

“I wanted to see it develop and help it develop,” says Morse, who is retired after more than 40 years in psychiatry and teaching. “We wanted it to be a work in progress while we’re still around.”

Richard Morse, MD, and Lawrence Connor, MSW
Richard Morse, MD, and Lawrence Connor, MSW

Prior to 2020, the society has been supported personally with annual gifts by Morse and Connor, but it will now additionally be supported through the endowment. Morse describes the last eight years as a successful pilot program that has created many more ideas on how to enhance the experience for the scholars.

The Morse Society currently provides stipend and tuition support to four or more doctoral students each for three years of study, but Morse’s goal is to support nine – a goal he hopes to achieve through the endowment and eventual estate gift.

“We are deeply grateful to Dr. Morse and Mr. Connor for their generosity in supporting the Morse Society,” says Waisman Center director Qiang Chang, PhD. “The endowment is transformative and reflects their lifelong commitment to improving the health and well-being of children. Their gift secures the future of this interdisciplinary training program at the Waisman Center for years to come.”

Morse’s additional gift honors his parents, who also graduated from the UW – his father in 1925 and his mother in 1926. A lawyer and social worker respectively, they dedicated their careers to improving outcomes for children. Morse says this gift celebrates the 100th anniversary of his parents’ involvement with the university. Morse says he founded the society because, during his career, he saw too much of a chasm between psychosocial and the physical development specialists in his field. He strongly believes that all areas of child mental health – from mental and physiological to genetic and pharmacological – should all work together.

“The key is a very free and open dialectic,” he says. “I have seen that preserved at the university since I first studied there 53 years ago.”

A portion of the funds have been allocated to provide a monthly dinner for scholars to get together, talk about research, and listen to presentations. In addition to doctoral students, two postdoctoral researchers, two Waisman Center faculty members, and invited guest speakers are regular attendees at these monthly society meetings. The dinners are an important part of the society “as a way to celebrate scholars,” Morse says. “I think this is a remarkable opportunity to have fellowship with each other and with junior and senior faculty and visiting speakers.” A visiting professorship is also included upon completion of the planned gift.