Lee Morrison, champion of the arts in Missoula and believer in all the good things about people, died Sunday evening at her home near Palm Springs, Calif.
Morrison's family was with her. On Monday, their memories of her were simple and profound.
"She was fabulous," said her daughter, Dee Morrison, by phone from Palm Springs . "She liked everybody. She just found the good in everybody. I hope I learned that from her."
Julie Morrison, Morrison's former daughter-in-law and close friend since 1987, remembered the same thing about Lee - the positive approach she'd take to everybody.
"I'd say, 'I ran into so-and-so,' " Julie said from Palm Springs . "And she'd say, 'Oh, that's my favorite person in the world.' She must have had 100 very favorite people in the world."
"She was sunshine," she said. "So upbeat every day."
Morrison was founder of the lifestyle store and gallery Magic in downtown Missoula in 1970 and owned it until 1989. The store today is in Southgate Mall. A watercolor painter herself, she started the Montana Watercolor Society and was a founder of the Missoula Businesswomen's Network. She owned the Lee Morrison Gallery, beginning in 1986 in the Bernice's Bakery building and later, when she "retired," in her home in Target Range .
Morrison was best known as an art appraiser, which she began doing formally in 1980. She was close friends with Missoula businessman and art collector Gilbert Milliken, who died in June 2003, and was the cataloger of his vast collection.
She was also the mentor and champion of many Missoula artists at the beginning of their careers, holding shows of their work when hardly anybody knew them. Monte Dolack was among those artists.
For years, Morrison represented artist Walter Hook, continuing after his death, and also Delbert Gish and Jean Halverson.
She was a stalwart member and past president of the Art Associates, which supports the programming at the Missoula Art Museum and sponsors its art program for fifth-graders.
On Monday, the new group of docents for this spring's fifth-grade program met for training just after museum director Laura Millin and others learned of her death.
"I had to announce it, and we all cried," Millin said.
"I just loved her," she said. "She was frank and honest and opinionated and funny and smart. And passionate. Her feet were on the ground."
Morrison did appraisal work for the museum through the years - she was certified by the American Society of Appraisers and a member of the Appraisers Association of America - and was the museum's tireless advocate, Millin said.
"Her influence is reflected in our collection," Millin said. "She was helpful to us on so many levels, a friend to the museum."
Morrison was the daughter of the legendary television personality Vi Thomson, who worked for KECI in Missoula for 45 years and died at the retirement home of Lee and her husband, Dick, on the golf course in Polson in May 2002 at 93.
At Thomson's memorial service, Millin remembers, Lee met each guest at the door and gave each a piece of costume jewelry from Vi's voluminous collection. Everybody put them on, Millin said, in the spirit of Vi and of Lee, upbeat and funny.
"Lee was able to set the tone right there with that gesture," Millin said.
Morrison was born Aug.26,1929, in Helena and grew up in Helena and Missoula . She graduated from Missoula County High School and studied briefly in the University of Montana art department.
She met her future husband at Gordon Ranch in Holland Lake when she was 18 and married him, Julie Morrison said. They had four children by the time Lee was 24. Dick thought she might not have enough to do, Julie said, so he bought her some paints. She painted the rest of her life.
Longtime UM art professor and artist Jim Dew met her when she was an 18-year-old student named Vena Lee Thomson in one of his classes in 1947. They remained lifelong friends. In 1995, the two of them and six other people went on a trip to France .
"We had a wonderful time," Dew said Monday.
In recent years, Lee nagged him to keep painting.
"She was just a wonderful personality," he said, "and I'm going to miss her. So are a lot of people."
Dee Morrison was hard-pressed to come up with a single favorite story about her mother on Monday. But, she said, her mother was legendary in the family for being technology-impaired - even if the Lee Morrison Gallery does have a Web site.
"She couldn't figure out computers to save her soul, or technology," Dee said. "She couldn't figure out why her cell phone wasn't charging. Then it wouldn't be plugged in."
Morrison was an enthusiastic golfer and bridge player and a member of the Missoula Country Club. Her response to a diagnosis of thyroid cancer in October 2002 was, "What do I have to do to beat this?" Julie said.
"Even her doctors adored her," she said.
Morrison is survived by her husband, Dick, who is returning to Missoula . Her children are daughters, Dee and Stacey of Indio, Calif; son, Gary of Missoula; and son, Rick of Helena. The family plans to hold a memorial service in May in Missoula .
Morrison got many, many letters from people who loved and appreciated her during her illness, Julie said. Instead of sending cards or flowers, the family would appreciate donations to a hospice program in Lee's name or to any other charity.
"To my cherished and beloved friends, throughout the years your calls, cards, flowers and loving thoughts have embraced me, and I have drawn an immense source of comfort and strength from them. It has been humbling to think that I have touched so many, so deeply, as I wandered through this earth. You have held me both in love and sorrow, and words cannot express how deeply I will miss those treasured moments. Thank you so much for enriching my life here on earth, and I love you all."
Nancy Cane Beelman
In Celebration of the life of Nancy Cane Beelman
Her family, along with the Montana Watercolor Society, wishes to express appreciation for your generous contribution to Nancy's Fund.
Past Montana Watercolor Society President Nancy Cane Beelman left her supply of art materials to the Society upon her death from cancer in April of 2003. Clare Beelman and Margo Voermans worked on selling the supplies.
A few of the materials were set aside for the Nancy Cane Beelman Raffle. Two yard sales were held and finally, three of Nancy's paintings were auctioned and brought in additional funds.
This money along with the many generous donations sent to the Society as memorials, will fund a Certificate of Deposit. The interest from this account will be used to fund the Beelman Award at Watermedia.
Dale Beelman, Nancy's husband, will donate $400 per year for this award for his lifetime and the certificate will take over after his death.
Not only did Nancy leave a rich legacy of work and friendship on behalf of MTWS but, thanks to the family's generosity, and the gifts of her friends, her support of MTWS will continue as the Nancy Beelman Award in Watermedia.
A Note of Remembrance from Nancy . . .
Think of this when you think of me:
I was lucky. I had the best parents, husband, children, grandchildren, family and friends in the whole world. I was also blessed with the most loving pets in the animal kingdom.
My friendships meant everything to me. I enjoyed giving laughter to others even at my own expense. It was an expense well spent.
I loved this earth of ours, and birds, and flowers, and Montana, my adopted state. I was blessed with a voice that could make others happy. I had a never-ending joy of water and swimming.
I believe in God. He is all around us from my favorite chickadees to the sunsets.
Remember I had a wonderful full life filled with Art and Fun. Smile for me and know that I am with those I love who have been waiting for me, as I shall be waiting for you. So long for a while . . .