Morison leaves a lasting legacy

‘Visionary’ a driving force for RiverMead

Anne Frantz was given the Boston Post Cane, honoring her as the oldest resident of Peterborough.
(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Anne Frantz was given the Boston Post Cane, honoring her as the oldest resident of Peterborough. (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

PETERBOROUGH — New Hampshire lost a pillar of both business and philanthropy when John Hopkins Morison died on Sunday, at the age of 100, at his home in the RiverMead retirement community.

Morison, who was instrumental in transforming the Hitchiner Company of Milford into a highly successful investment casting business, was also an active supporter of a range of charitable institutions, including the Currier Museum of Art and the N.H. Charitable Foundation. And he was a driving force behind the establishment of RiverMead, which was built on land that was once part of his family’s Upland Farm.

“What a man. He was a force to be reckoned with,” said Bonnie Cohen on Wednesday. Cohen, the former chief executive officer at RiverMead, worked with Morison for 15 years. “He was a visionary. He saw what RiverMead could be from the very beginning. He had great ideas and he wanted things to be done right.”

Cohen said Morison remained enthusiastic about the RiverMead community throughout his life.

“We didn’t always agree, but we always made it work,” she said. “He was definitely the boss. He used to call me ‘Mother Superior.’ I always enjoyed hearing that from him, even as recently as last year.”

Jan Eaton, RiverMead’s director of resident services and marketing, said Morison was determined to make RiverMead a success.

“What sticks out to me the most is how much he cared about the seniors of the Monadnock region,” Eaton said on Wednesday. “He didn’t want folks to have to leave as they got older. There wasn’t anything like this 25 years ago. He made it happen.”

She said Morison and his wife moved in to RiverMead in the second year the facility was open.

“He was very involved from day one and he stayed that way all the time he was here,” Eaton said.

Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner recalls working with Morison during the early days of RiverMead’s development.

“He was always a quiet spirit in the room,” Brenner said on Wednesday. “He was such a stately gentleman. He was always supportive of what the town was trying to do.”

Manchester lawyer Kimon Zachos is a longtime friend of Morison who worked with him at the Currier Museum and later became a board member at Hitchiner.

“I got to know John when I was on a nominating committee at the Currier,” Zachos said Wednesday. “We were looking for good trustees and it soon became apparent that we’d latched on to a real Renaissance man. He could talk manufacturing, business, taxes and art. He was very diligent and worked hard.”

Zachos said Morison served on the Currier board for 31 years, from 1969 to 2000, and was a trustee emeritus until his death.

Zachos said Morison managed to turn around Hitchiner, which had been a bankrupt company when Morison and his father purchased it. “It wasn’t the easiest thing, but he kept that company going,” Zachos said. “Now it’s run by his son. It’s the type of family operation you don’t see any more.”

Zachos said Morison was especially proud of RiverMead.

“RiverMead was one of the first four continuing care retirement communities in the state,” Zachos said. “He made the land available. His enthusiasm and energy to find the right people to do the management and marketing to get that started were key. It was really quite an accomplishment.”

David Weir of Peterborough is a third cousin, once removed, of Morison. Weir has known Morrison all his life.

“His family were the first settlers of Peterborough,” Weir said. “He grew up and went to school in Milwaukee and then went to Harvard. He married a Brazilian woman and lived there before he came back here after the war.”

Weir said Morison was known for his philanthropy. “He was one of the originators of the N.H. Charitable Foundation,” Weir said. “He saw the Currier through a significant expansion. He was always a strong supporter of the Unitarian church. And he was a very loyal supporter of the Peterborough library.”

Weir said Morison’s ancestors, the Smith and Morison cousins, built Peterborough’s current library building in 1893 and about 10 years ago Morison and his cousin collaborated to rebuild the rotunda.

“He was a remarkable person and had a wonderful life,” Weir said.

Morison’s obituary appears on page 11.

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