Mary Ann Morris

Emeritus textiles and clothing professor Mary Ann Morris, 95, created a scholarship fund for medical students in honor of UC Davis Health faculty members that she met and befriended after her retirement. Morris is also a major supporter of the Mondavi Center arts complex.

A celebration of friendship Emeritus textiles professor Mary Ann Morris created the Ann Bonham and Jesse Joad Endowed Scholarship after meeting the former UC Davis Health leaders on Arboretum walks.

It’s the stuff that friendly college towns are made of.

A smile and hello between passers-by on a UC Davis Arboretum footpath evolved over the course of almost three decades into a treasured friendship between university faculty in distant fields — medicine and textiles science — linked by a shared nexus between science and everyday life.

And ultimately, emeritus textiles and clothing professor Mary Ann Morris decided to celebrate her bond with those accidental friends by creating a scholarship in their honor, which will now help UC Davis medical students in their own preparations for work at the junction of scholarship and society.

Morris, now 95 and still living within a stone’s throw of the Davis campus, launched the Ann Bonham, Ph.D., and Jesse Joad, M.D., Endowed Scholarship with an initial $10,000 investment a decade ago and has helped to support seven students. She recently pledged a major estate gift as well that will annually provide several medical students with significant support.

“Mary Ann’s generosity helps our students directly, and it will also touch many more lives in the future through the care and leadership they provide as physicians,” said Lars Berglund, M.D., Ph.D., interim dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. “It’s really a wonderful legacy.”

Impromptu meeting, lifelong friendship

The help for UC Davis medical students was also welcome news to the honorees, both former UC Davis Health scientists and administrators. Bonham, emeritus professor of pharmacology and medicine and executive associate dean, later became the chief scientific officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges. Joad, emeritus professor of pediatric pulmonology and associate dean of diversity and faculty life, launched key diversity and mentorship programs.

Morris and her close friend, Lorena Herrig, would often encounter the younger Joad and Bonham on morning walks in the Arboretum, the linear garden that lines Putah Creek on the Davis campus. They soon recognized each other at a Freeborn Hall concert and struck up a conversation, which led to a dinner invitation and eventually many more.

“We enjoyed their company, and I guess they enjoyed ours!” said Morris, whose patient, down-to-earth manner helps to explain a self-avowed dislike of publicity. “We were interested in a lot of the same kinds of things.”

Bonham and Joad vividly remember the first encounter. “Mary Ann and Lorena were looking up and we paused our run to also look up, and Mary Ann said: ‘We are wondering what that bird is?’ ” Bonham said. “Of course, we had no idea!”

That evening, they met by chance at a UC Davis performance where Joad’s former cello teacher, Joel Krosnick, was performing with the Juilliard String Quartet. The then-Friends of UC Davis Presents group had sponsored a members-only post-performance event to meet him.

“As we waited in the lobby hoping to catch Krosnick’s attention, Mary Ann saw us and immediately invited us in to the members-only event,” Bonham said. “She treated us like we were life-long members and friends, and that marked the beginning of our almost-30 year friendship.

“Mary Ann has been one of those rare and special friends — a source of guidance, humor, thoughtfulness, curiosity and generosity of spirit. She personifies UC Davis in her commitment to inclusion and social justice as part and parcel of excellence.”

Interests in science and innovation

Morris herself had once contemplated a career in medicine after serving in the WAVES — the women’s branch of the U.S. Naval Reserve — during World War II and becoming eligible for G.I. Bill benefits.

“If I’d been born a few years later, I may have considered it,” she said. “But in my time, women weren’t welcomed in that field. Looking back, I would have enjoyed it.”

She studied home economics at UCLA instead and specialized in textiles, a path that still offered opportunities to engage her interests in science and innovation. Morris had read about the crucial role that fabrics played in the lives of World War II soldiers in Guadalcanal jungles, North African deserts, Ardennes blizzards and other extreme climes.

The revolutionary synthetic polymer nylon, for instance, introduced to great public fanfare just before the war, had been quickly diverted into the production of parachutes and tents. “So no one really knew what nylon was, or what its limitations could be,” Morris said. “I just found that interesting.”

Bringing arts and art education to Davis

Morris also has a lifelong interest in the performing arts and arts education, born in part of a special experience at the Metropolitan Opera during graduate school in Minnesota. A connected friend secured front row seats and backstage access, and Morris had an impromptu chat with the star soprano.

“I got the bug — it was a lot of glamour, and an element of society I’d never been exposed to,” she said. “I have absolutely no musical ability myself, so I admire anyone who does have it.”

Years later Morris would become an early member of an organization that became known as Friends of UC Davis Presents, precursor to the Friends of Mondavi Center. She made a major gift to help make the performing arts center a reality, and a fountain in the park outside it is named in memory of her parents and an aunt whose estate helped support the donation.

Morris still enjoys the arts — now only 15 minutes away — as well as introductory lunches with medical students supported by the scholarship fund.

“They have interesting stories to tell, and I’ve always been impressed,” she said. “So many of the recipients have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and I’m very pleased this can help them.”

For more information about giving to UC Davis medical school scholarships, please contact Mary Boivin-McGhee at the UC Davis Health philanthropy office at: 916-734-1820 or