When BeeJee and Perry Morrison visited their daughter in Honduras while she was serving in the Peace Corps, she introduced them to the local Garifuna women whom she was helping to develop small businesses.
“She was simultaneously talking to them and translating what they were saying to us,” Mrs. Morrison said. “I thought ‘This was my child, really?’ ”
Translating a few conversations would have been nothing to Lesa B. Morrison. A worldwide traveler and scholar, the Pittsburgh native spent years studying various cultures as a profession and interest.
In late November, while researching the Luo people in Kenya, Ms. Morrison was bitten by a spider and died about a week later after developing an infection, according to her family. She was found Dec. 8 in her residence in Nairobi. She was 53.
Ms. Morrison grew up in Squirrel Hill and graduated from Winchester Thurston School in 1980. She earned an economics degree and an MBA from the University of Chicago. But soon after earning her MBA, she turned away from the business world.
“When she came out of business school, she was so annoyed with all the people looking for jobs that paid the most … she went totally in the opposite direction,” said BeeJee Morrision of Shadyside.
Instead of going into business, Ms. Morrison joined the Peace Corps. She asked to be placed in a French-speaking country because she had studied French in school but was assigned to Honduras and had to learn Spanish.
From 1986 to 1989, Ms. Morrison helped the Garifuna women in Corozal, Honduras, develop a cassava bread-making factory where they could work.
“She wanted to help people set up small businesses, she wanted to empower people,” said her sister, Abby Morrison of Shadyside. “She wanted to use her skills to help people and help better their situations.”
She later parlayed her work in Honduras into a job at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Morrison earned a master’s degree and a doctorate from Duke University in political science, specializing in African studies and ethnic conflict.
“She understood her purpose for being here,” said Andre Robinson, a political science professor at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, who met Ms. Morrison at Duke and became her friend. “Her deepest desire was to be a constructive force in the world, and so that’s why she devoted herself and her work to conflict resolution.”
Ms. Morrison lived in Durham, N.C., while working on her doctorate and became a trained mediator. But her heart was in Africa, and she eventually left for Kenya to continue her research after she finished at Duke.
Ms. Morrison never forgot Pittsburgh, though. She returned to visit family and always knew how the Steelers were doing, Abby Morrison said.
Deborah Acklin, president and CEO of WQED, was a classmate of Ms. Morrison at Winchester Thurston. Ms. Acklin said she fell out of touch with Ms. Morrison after graduating, but they reconnected in adulthood.
Ms. Acklin said said she would often discuss WQED’s fundraising efforts with Ms. Morrison. At one point when Ms. Morrison found out federal funding for the station was being opposed in Congress, Ms. Acklin said her friend wrote to a congressman on behalf of public broadcasting.
“Whatever she turned her considerable intellect to, she was passionate about,” Ms. Acklin said.
One of Ms. Morrison’s many passions was opera and classical music, and she played Spanish-style classical guitar.
Although Ms. Morrison was focused on her work in Africa, she visited many other places. She traveled to Central and South America, Europe and parts of Asia. She climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Fuji and Machu Picchu. She went to Japan with a Japanese man she met in Nairobi and toured the country on his motorcycle.
Abby Morrison said her sister made friends wherever she went, and many of her sister’s friends have been messaging her to express their sadness and sympathy.
One text messages she received was in Swahili — one of the languages Ms. Morrison knew — from a friend of her sister’s in Kenya that read: “Kwakheri Ya Kuonana,” or “Goodbye until we meet again.”
“She did exactly what she wanted in her life, and she did way more than most people do in their lifetime,” BeeJee Morrison said.
Ms. Morrison’s father, Perry E. Morrison, a major supporter of classical music in Pittsburgh, died in 2010.
Visitation will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday at Ralph Schugar Chapel, Squirrel Hill, where a funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Burial will be in West View Cemetery of Rodef Shalom Congregation. Donations may be made to the Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra or the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Andrew Goldstein: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1352.