As the new executive director of IBMA, Pat Morris also becomes the newest member of the IBMA Foundation board of directors. An excerpt from a fine article written by Derek Halsey about Morris for the September issue of Bluegrass Unlimited follows. Be sure to pick up a copy of BU to read the entire article. Welcome to the IBMA Foundation, Pat!
When it comes to the IBMA, and bluegrass music in general, of course, there always seems to be a need for an executive to have experience in running a large organization while at the same time having a true connection to and love for the music itself. Both of these aspects are found in Pat Morris.
As a kid, Morris lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where his father was a history professor at the University of Cincinnati. Eventually his family moved to the Williamsburg area of southern Virginia. While taking guitar classes and writing songs in high school, his favorite music was the folk rock of Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot, and Dan Fogelberg.
“I had my first job at the Busch Gardens theme park in Williamsburg,” said Morris. “I worked in the BBQ Pits restaurant that was close to the live bluegrass music show that ran every hour. There, I was introduced to the Wahoo Review, a New Grass type-band. All the performers would come over and eat at the BBQ Pits during their breaks, so I got to know them, we became friends, and I was turned on to bluegrass music by them. The great Dobro player Gene Wooten was with the group then. Another bluegrass band that played at the park was led by Jim Lauderdale. I heard this new sound, and I was hooked. I have carried it with me around the world ever since.”
Morris played guitar and formed a few groups while in high school and college, including Lazy Luther’s Armadillo Band, which played everything from bluegrass and country to songs by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. After Morris graduated from Christopher Newport University, he entered the Marine Corps Officers Program in Quantico, Virginia. He became an Artillery officer and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for two years and experienced various assignments throughout Asia. After returning to San Diego to end his stint in the Marines, Morris entered graduate school at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, which was fortunately another hotbed of bluegrass music.
With a Master of Public Administration degree in hand, Morris was chosen to be one of 200 graduates nationwide to join the prestigious Presidential Management Fellowship Program, and he soon moved to Washington, D.C. Morris found himself working in the Pentagon for the Secretary of Defense as well as on Capitol Hill with the U.S. Senate. He then moved on to more government work as a regulator for the Department of Defense and the Department of Agriculture. While running a multi-state office for the USDA in Minnesota, he had a conversation with a friend in Kansas about running an association.
“My friend said, ‘Associations are a mix of events and continuing education and advocating for members and communication,’” said Morris. “It was this great variety of duties. So, I moved to Kansas to become the CEO of my first association. Since then, I have been an association executive—working in technology and standards in the retail industry, emerging information standards with leading tech companies, and nonprofits focused on business credit unions and small businesses involved with accounts receivables.
“What I found in my association career is that while the issues change, the core mission of different associations is similar; you get consensus on what your members need and deliver education and great events and excellent customer service,” said Morris. “You also need to look ahead to be able to protect the association strategically to see where the industry is going and how best to serve the members.
“I think it’s important to not come into an association like the IBMA and assume that I already have the answers,” Morris continues. “A big part of what I need to do first is to listen and learn and get a good sense of how things were built and what the traditions were at the beginning of the IBMA, and what the vision of the founders was. I think it is important to do a really good assessment of what is important to our professional members, fans, and future members, look at the issues and initiatives that are top of mind, and learn first how we got here rather than have some sort of prefab answers or toolbox of solutions that may have worked in another nonprofit.
“I’ve had a love and a passion for bluegrass for most of my life,” Morris says, “and the fact that I can now take that and apply the talent and skills that I have in running associations and put these two together . . . it’s a dream come true.”
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RETURN to the September issue of The Cornerstone.