Business leader helped restore palace items
By Gary T. Kubota
Wilmer C. “Bill” Morris, a businessman instrumental in securing the return of the Hawaiian crowns, swords and scepter to Iolani Palace, died in Kaneohe on Feb. 9. He was a month shy of his 91st birthday.
Morris, a part-Hawaiian, traced his ancestry to British sea captain Samuel Dowsett, who settled in Hawaii in 1828, and Hawaiian Princess Keikipauahi.
Morris was a director emeritus of Iolani Palace and the Bishop Museum, and a founding member of the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace and the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.
The Bishop Museum honored Morris in 2012 for his dedication to Hawaiian heritage by awarding him the Charles Reed Bishop Medal for his leadership, philanthropy and generosity.
Museum President Blair Collis said Morris was an intelligent, passionate individual who was also extremely humble and possessed a great sense of humor.
“He was very approachable … just a likable guy,” Collis said. “That was part of his charm.”
Morris’ brother Charles was married to Helen Lydia Kamaka’eha Lili’uokalani Kawananakoa. When she was dying of cancer, she asked Bill Morris to promise her that the thrones and other symbols of royalty would be returned to Iolani Palace, Morris’ family said.
As a result, a number of items were restored to the palace from the museum.
“It was one of many good deeds,” Collis said.
Morris was also director emeritus of Hawaii Pacific University, where he was honored as a “Fellow of the Pacific,” and worked tirelessly as a fundraiser for them as well as Punahou School, ‘Iolani School, Mid-Pacific Institute, the Community Chest/Aloha United Way and the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.
In an oral history of his early years, Morris talked about spending time with the beachboys in Waikiki and sometimes being asked by Kahanamoku to come down early on a Sunday morning to take movie stars and entertainers surfing or on a canoe ride.
He met Red Skelton, Loretta Young, Tyrone Power, Spencer Tracy and even escorted Shirley Temple out to dinner.
Kahanamoku taught Morris how to swim at the family home in Puuloa at age 5. They remained close friends until Kahanamoku’s death, and Morris wrote the foreword to the book “Duke: A Great Hawaiian.”
Morris, a 1941 graduate of Punahou School, was at the University of Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Having been an ROTC officer at Punahou, he was called to the Hawaii Territorial Guard Armory and later served in the Army.
After the war he worked as an insurance salesman and later went to work at Bishop Trust and retired as senior vice president of real estate in 1991.
Morris started a private real estate development company, Morris Enterprises, developing properties such as Ichiben Times Square Shopping Center in Waimalu and the old Chun Hoon Market.
Morris is survived by daughters Anna Lindon “Linny” Morris, Frances “Posie” Morris Constable and Alison Pauahi Morris Recek; son William Cox “Toby” Morris; and four grandchildren.
A tribute celebration of Morris’ life is scheduled for 3 p.m. March 15 at the Punahou chapel. No floral arrangements. Contributions may be made to the Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Punahou School or Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation.