Morris has led company through change

A mural by street artist Brett Cook-Dizney appeared on the front of the old Revco building on Broad Street in the late 1990s. The Wall Street Journal once said Morris would be Augusta's most famous resident if not for Brown.

"There has never been a time within my memory that the newspaper has not been an integral part of my life."


Billy Morris wrote that.

It appeared on The Chronicle's front page on the morning of April 17, 1966. He was 31 years old, and he was taking over the Augusta newspapers after his father's illness.

He then proceeded to tell readers his intentions.

"A newspaper's first job, of course, is to print the news accurately and without fear or favor. This we shall do ...

"We will strive always to keep our readers among the best informed anywhere."

He acknowledged responsibilities to both his family and posterity "to maintain the tradition of civic service established for me by those eminent community leaders, who have guided Augusta's newspapers during their long and glorious history."

As The Chronicle's new publisher, he told the readers what its opinions would be.

"The editorial policy of the Augusta newspapers will continue to have as its sole motivation the unqualified and fearless support of what we feel to be are the best interests of our community, our area and our nation."

He ended it with this:

"With your help and the help of God we shall not fail."

Then he signed his name.

Forty-four years later, William S. "Billy" Morris III is still the publisher of the South's Oldest Newspaper.

He is also chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co. The company now owns and operates newspapers, radio stations, visitor publications, magazine and book publishing businesses, event marketing and online services.

He has served as chairman and member of the board of directors of the Newspaper Association of America. He is a former director of The Associated Press and the Advertising Council Inc. He received the first Bottom Line Award from the Media Management Club of the University of Georgia for his contributions to publications management education at the university.

His honors include selection as the 1983 Outstanding Alumnus of the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications and induction into the Mass Communication Hall of Fame at Texas Tech University. He is a former member and chairman of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents and has served on the boards of trustees of the Augusta College Foundation, Paine College and the University of Georgia Foundation.

In addition to serving on the board of trustees of Columbia Theological Seminary, he is a former director of the National Science Center Foundation, and former director of Southern Co. and Georgia Power Co. He is a founder and former chairman of the Greater Augusta Sports Council, director and president of the Atlantic Coast Cutting Horse Association, founder and show chairman of the Augusta Futurity and chief executive officer of the National Barrel Horse Association of America.

He is the founder and chairman of the board of the Morris Museum of Art, which he established in memory of his parents. In memory of his father, he also established the Morris Eminent Scholar's Chair in Art at Augusta State University and the William S. Morris Chair of Newspaper Strategy and Management at the University of Georgia. In memory of his mother, he established the Florence Hill Morris Scholarship at Columbia Theological Seminary.

The Wall Street Journal once said he would be the most famous resident of Augusta if James Brown didn't live here.

Billy Morris still talks about the role of newspapers.

In the keynote address he made as chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, he challenged its members to keep working for the readers.

"Here we are," he said, "still the watchdog on patrol -- almost alone -- at local courthouses and police stations across America, still the defender of the people's right and need to know."

He urged them to keep up the good fight. He said past competitors had predicted America's newspapers would be killed off by radio or television or the Internet.

"And, yet," Morris said, "here we are, still the single most important source of accurate, reliable news and information."

He's still here, too, the longest serving publisher in The Chronicle's 225-year history.