Select Page

Alicia Morris was 58 years old when she died of cancer in January 2019. As the manager of the MOMA Design Store for 29 years, Alicia had a deep appreciation for the arts and artists who break conventional boundaries. At her request, the family has set-up a foundation to support scientific research and the promotion of emerging artists.

Funding for scientific research will focus on Anorectal Melanoma and finding effective ways to treat this cancer.

Funding for the arts will support all types of contemporary arts including visual art, music, performing arts, literary arts and craft arts.  Grants will be given to specific projects of emerging artists that represent innovative and original concepts and bring arts to the greater public.

Grants will be given out annually through an application process and reviewed by the foundation’s advisory board. Details on grant deadlines and guidelines will become available in a few months.

 

We will celebrate Alicia in an auditorium at MoMA on Wednesday, April 10 at 6:00 PM. A reception at MoMA will follow. 
Everyone is more than welcome! We will be sending invitations via paperless post to better plan for the number of attendees.
Please email contact@aliciamorris.org if you would like an invitation to the celebration. We will celebrate Alicia in an auditorium at MoMA on Wednesday, April 10 at 6:00 PM

For those needing a hotel, we have group rates at several hotels. Please email contact@aliciamorris.org for more information

At her request, the family has set-up a foundation to support scientific research and the promotion of emerging artists.





Donations Via Check
The Alicia Morris Memorial Fund
c/o Morgan Stanley
Faith Bartunek
1585 Broadway, 22nd Floor
New York, NY 10036

Alicia Marie Morris

April 30, 1960 – January 16, 2019

 

Our sister Alicia died Wednesday night. Many of her family members were with her at the end, and almost continuously since she went into hospice care on January 3.

She was everyone’s favorite sister, aunt, daughter, sister-in-law, cousin, and friend. She was funny, wise, loyal, well-read, distrustful of social media, artsy and practical. She liked crazy movies, making sticky buns, reading the New Yorker, and meeting for martinis. She had an amazing sense of style and wore fabulous jewelry and clothing—much of which she made herself. After she first went through chemo she bought cheapo wigs in Chinatown in different colors, and cut them herself to striking effect. She had a rescue cat named Nyla that was found at a Walmart parking lot in South Philly. She gave the best presents: creative, fun, and perfect for each recipient. She lived in a wonderfully cozy one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village for 25 years, filled with books, crafts, art, and scarves — lots and lots of scarves. She typically read more than 50 novels per year. She started most days with a cup of coffee at the Whitney Museum overlooking the Hudson.

Alicia was a typical middle sister in a big family: she was the person who got the rest of us organized to put a cookbook together for our parent’s anniversary and she determined the assignments for any project. She had a strong sense of right and wrong, was loyal to her duties and expected others to be as well. She was that combination of nice, fair, funny and bossiness that everyone appreciates.

She was the manager of the Design Store at the Museum of Modern Art for 29 years and in fact she was hired as the manager when MoMA was planning a new design store as part of its expansion in 1990. Employees loved her, probably for many of the same reasons that her family did: she expected from others what she expected of herself. She also had a great sense of what would sell and she had long and trusted relationships with artisan suppliers and customers. Alenia Sammy is the department manager who worked for Alicia. She described Alicia:

She was practical and pragmatic, but so creative! She knew how to get things done. She knew what was going on in the store 24/7, and her customer skills were incredible. She could deal with all types of people. If she made a mistake, she owned it, and would fix it. Her sense of humor was dastardly, and she used it to motivate and soothe us at the same time. She was loyal to her staff and knew how to motivate them, in part by being a ‘gentle rule breaker’ — like serving whiskey sours in the back of the store at a game night for the staff after we closed. And just a few weeks ago she gave me a beautiful pair of earrings that she made herself that were so thoughtful. None of us were aware of how much the cancer had progressed. She was so determined to have a positive outlook!

Alicia loved working at MoMA, and thought of it as a second family. She developed a close relationship with Aggie Gund, the legendary chair of MoMA, whom Alicia admired immensely for her fairness, wit, down-to-earth character and her extraordinary good taste.

Here’s a good story about her impact at the museum. Stephen Clark was the deputy general counsel of MoMA during the long labor negotiations in 2000, which resulted in a strike lasting 14 weeks. Alicia was appointed to the committee negotiating with the union and Stephen told me she was indispensable in resolving the contract, mainly due to her credibility with everyone. She was selected in part because she was responsible for managing several of the people who were in the bargaining unit for labor, but Stephen said she had a strong sense of what issues were real and substantive and which members of the union were most credible. She resented it immensely when the union would distort an issue or misrepresent management’s position, but she wouldn’t let management misrepresent an issue either. Stephen said:

Integrity was integral to who she was; she would tell the truth and expected everyone else to, even when you disagreed. She believed that all employees had a role that was important and had a duty to that role. And she was always smiling and funny, with a twinkle in her eye that made it easier for people who disagreed to come to terms.

She had cancer for two and half years. She went to the emergency room late at night on June 26, 2016, with what must have been unbearable pain; they rushed her to surgery and removed a large tumor from her colon. She didn’t tell us at the time, but the type of cancer was very serious, with low survivorship rates. She was very lucky to get a referral from my friend Dr Timothy Wang, to Dr Gary Schwartz, the chief of Hematology and Oncology at Columbia and the director of its clinical research lab for the identification of new targeted agents for cancer therapy, particularly in the treatment of sarcoma and melanoma. He agreed to take Alicia on as a patient and they formed a special relationship over 30 months of treatment.

The initial diagnosis was that she had stage three colon cancer but, after a full body CT scan, they discovered that the cancer had in fact metastasized to her liver, so was now an “advanced metastatic disease” – stage four. She also had the dreaded BRAF mutant melanoma, which applies in less than 5% of colorectal cancers. Dr. Schwartz applied an aggressive chemotherapy, which had unusual side effects for her, including a freezing sensation whenever she drank even water; it was incredibly difficult to endure. And this whole time her colon wasn’t reattached, so she had to use an “ostomy pouch.” For 18 months — yikes. But still she would take the subway up to chemo, and she continued to go to work and most people had no idea there was anything wrong with her, except she started wearing funky wigs.

Things got worse. The cancer came back after chemo, and Dr Schwartz got her into a drug trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering, which was using an experimental BRAF inhibitor. Then more bad news: she was randomly selected to receive the placebo. Dr Schwartz thought this was nuts; she was going to die without a dramatic treatment, but Alicia told him she thought she should stay in the study on the placebo out of her loyalty to help science. Dr Schwartz called me and he said he could get her on the drug; we agreed to pay for it, and Alicia dropped out of the study, and went on the inhibitor.

The initial results were truly unbelievable. Her cancer was dramatically reduced, and her functional response was excellent. She was able to remove her ostomy pouch, which was understandably a major improvement in her life. Her energy was good and she looked great. She continued to work and felt pretty much normal for a year.

But in September of 2018 came bad news: the tumor had developed resistance to the BRAF inhibitor. This is an area of research for which scientists don’t yet have a solution and, in Alicia’s case, it proved devastating. By November, the cancer was affecting her liver, and while she had a delightful, fun Thanksgiving, and had a blast at my 60th birthday party in early December (which is where the picture above was taken), the week before Christmas it became clear that she could not go to work. She was still stoical, but she was coming to grips with the reality that the only option was to retry an aggressive chemo treatment to stop the cancer. It didn’t work. On New Year’s Day, she called my sister Monika and asked her if she could bring her to the hospital. She was, perhaps for the first time, very scared.

Alicia, Monika, Marwan, Kate and I met with the resident and Dr. Schwartz on January second, where they told us they were out of medical options, and Alicia agreed she wanted to move to hospice care. Alicia was completely calm and accepting. She had tried so hard and with such quiet determination to fight a vicious disease, but she knew there was nothing left to do.

The Dawn Greene Hospice on York Avenue, which is part of the Calvary Hospital, was excellent. Alicia had a lovely private corner room overlooking Sotheby’s, and her spirits lifted as soon as she arrived. The next two weeks were unlike any experience I’ve had. No one would wish these circumstances on anyone, but until the last few days, Alicia was comfortable, funny, alert, engaging, and completely at peace with herself. Our family came every day, and while it was impossibly sad to confront the reality that she was dying, it was in many ways a joyous time for all of us. Alicia loved having everyone around her telling stories. She had some hilarious zingers of her own. She had Monika put up this sign:

that she would point to whenever someone asked her a philosophical question, like “is there anything you wished you did” or “how do you want us to handle XYZ.” She wanted us to figure out any details, she just wanted to listen to us all talk.

Meanwhile, her crowd of brothers, sister, nieces, nephews, cousins, and my mom and dad chipped in on the many tasks to do and details to sort out. The family gathered for dinner every night, so it was almost like Thanksgiving, albeit a melancholy one. We were all amazed by her grace, equanimity, humor, and wisdom. She showed us how to live a full and exemplary life, but also how to die. She made us want to live a better life ourselves, and brought our family, which was already very close, even closer together.

MoMA has been wonderful in so many ways, and our family is greatly indebted to Glenn Lowry and all of Alicia’s former colleagues for their help and support. She obviously touched many people at an institution that was central to her life; she loved them, and it’s clear they loved her. Glenn offered to host a memorial service for Alicia at MoMA, and we look forward to the opportunity to celebrate her there this April.

We established the Alicia Morris Memorial Fund to benefit anorectal melanoma cancer research (particularly the research conducted by Gary Schwartz) and also the arts organizations and emerging artists that she loved. Alicia was so frugal that she saved quite a bit of money, and we will use that to help organizations and projects that were important to her. We would, of course, welcome any further donations, and more information appears on this site (www.aliciamorris.org).

We have a lot to be thankful for in our 58 years with Alicia. We miss her terribly already, but her character is part of us now, which I will cherish for all of my life.

Hans

Get in Touch.