(May 2019) The University of Colorado School of Medicine Alumni Association honored Helen Morris, MD, with the Distinguished Achievement Award at the 2019 Silver & Gold Alumni Banquet May 23. Dr. Morris was recognized for work benefiting the community, the practice of medicine and the provision of health care, and the CU School of Medicine and Medical Alumni Association.
Morris has led an esteemed and accomplished career, in addition to a lifetime of service, mentorship and generosity. The child of Eastern European immigrants, the Denver native worked hard starting from a young age to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to her and to share her gifts with those less fortunate. She made the most of a four-year college scholarship, finishing her undergraduate education at CU Boulder a year early and applying the remaining funding to her first year at the CU School of Medicine. Her subsequent years in medical school were supported by student fellowships, which also provided resources for valuable training and experience in research. This funding enabled Morris to engage in innovative lab research focused on starting cultures from single human cells, a key step in subsequent genetic research.
As a postdoctoral research fellow, Morris extracted growth hormone from the pituitaries of human cadavers, years before it became possible to synthesize Human Growth Hormone. This led to an interest in growth and growth hormone in dwarfism, particularly in asthmatic children who had been treated with corticosteroids, and led Morris to focus on the pharmacologic effects of corticosteroids. Her career has encompassed clinical and pre-clinical research, whole-person patient care, community advocacy and groundbreaking drug development within the pharmaceutical industry.
Morris served on the CU School of Medicine faculty, and held positions in endocrinology and clinical pharmacology at Colorado General Hospital (now University of Colorado Hospital), Denver General Hospital (now Denver Health), the Denver Veterans Affairs Hospital, National Jewish and the Children’s Asthma Research Institute.
When Morris attended the CU School of Medicine, she was one of only five women in her class, and she embarked on an ambitious career at a time when few women held leadership positions in medicine. She was asked to serve in numerous capacities as a representative of women in medicine, quickly establishing herself as a highly respected and highly sought leader in the field, and blazing trails for many aspiring physicians, researchers and health professionals to follow. Morris credits her lifetime of achievement to accepting every challenge and opportunity presented to her throughout her career. As a pioneer during her time, she spent many years as a member of NIH and FDA advisory panels, publishing frequently in books and peer-reviewed journals, and speaking at national and international conferences. She served on the editorial board of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and as an ad-hoc reviewer for other journals.
As an alumna, Morris has remained committed to the CU School of Medicine, mentoring and financially supporting future generations, and regularly attending events including her 50th and 60th Class Reunions in 2006 and 2016. She established the Helen G. Morris, MD, Endowed Scholarship Fund at the CU School of Medicine, which will support medical students in perpetuity. CU President Bruce Benson recognized her commitment by naming a presidential scholarship in her honor.