2009 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Every day is full of opportunities to learn, to touch people in a constructive way, and to make yourself a better person."
The youngest of three children in his family, Michael Morris was born in 1946 in Fremont, Ohio, where his father worked as a justice of the peace. Morris describes his father as a man of integrity who taught him that his word is his bond. He also taught him the importance of punctuality and advised him that no matter how green the grass looked on the other side, it usually wasn't.
When Morris was in the fourth grade, a law was passed that required all justices to be members of the bar. Since his father was not a member, he lost his job. The family then moved to Toledo, where Morris' father found a job as a credit manager. Since he was essentially a bill collector who was often lied to about accounts, Morris says his father was not a very trusting man. "My mother balanced things out, though," he says, "because she was very trusting. She taught me to look for the best in others. She also believed that if something was meant to be, it would be. Both of my parents were very loving."
Shortly after their move, the family converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. Morris became an altar boy and did those activities throughout his high school years. His church was a cathedral and he helped preside over the funerals of local dignitaries. He found his duties to be deeply moving and declared he wanted to grow up to be a priest. He enrolled in a Jesuit all-boys school and worked hard to be a good student. By the time he reached high school, however, the dances with the nearby all-girls school changed his mind about becoming a priest.
Throughout his childhood Morris worked. He and his brother had paper routes. Once those were completed, they returned to the plant and took 40 more papers, which they sold on the street corner to drivers passing by. He also cut grass and painted houses. By the time he was in high school, he worked weekends and summers as a short-order cook in a Toledo restaurant.
Morris entered Eastern Michigan University in 1964, where he earned a degree in biology. The Vietnam War was in full swing during his college years and he joined ROTC, thinking that if he served in the war he would prefer to go in as an officer. He was commander of EMU's Reserve Officer Training Corps brigade and was also interim president of his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi.
In 1971, Morris began doing environmental impact statements for a small engineering firm. Believing he needed more education, he earned a law degree through four years of night school and worked during the day for American Natural Resources. From 1988 to 1997, he worked for Consumer's Power. In 1997, he served as chairman, president and CEO of Northeast Utilities in Hartford, Connecticut. In 2004, he became chairman, CEO, and president of American Electric Power. Since joining AEP, Morris has led the company's efforts to build an integrated gasification combined cycle plant—the first commercial-scale use of the technology for power generation, and the largest plant of its nature to date. AEP is the largest electricity generator in the United States, with more than five million customers.
Sadly, Michael Morris and his wife Linda lost their beloved son Justin in 2005. He was 23 and the younger of their two sons. He says of this tragic time in their lives, "Through the help of friends and family Linda, Ryan, and I have found peace and are able to look back and celebrate Justin's life. I've relied heavily on the advice my mother gave me so long ago: if it's meant to be it's meant to be, and the good Lord will never send you a challenge you aren't able to handle."