October 4, 2023

Marty Morrison: Alert the Media

From her window in Eagle Village, Director of Media and Public Relations Marty Morrison can see the season’s first snow flurries. But when winter weather gets bad enough to cut classes short, it’s the storm inside her office that really picks up.

Director of Media and Public Relations Marty Morrison has endeared herself to UMW students as the sender of snow-day emails. Photo by Maria Schultz.

Director of Media and Public Relations Marty Morrison has reached near-celebrity status with  UMW students, who look forward to her snow-day emails. Photo by Maria Schultz.

She and her team fly into action with phone calls and texts, emails and posts, alerts and advisories. The media inquiries, FOIA requests and college ranking materials piled up on her desk get swept aside.

Across campus, and well beyond, students wait for that coveted message from Morrison that school is delayed, or better yet canceled. It’s a duty that’s propelled her to near-superhero status in her 12 years on the job. But there’s so much more to her Mary Washington role.

From crisis communications to campus-wide emails to the Eagle Eye newsletter you’re reading right now, she keeps UMW in the know and makes sure media – from The Free Lance-Star to The New York Times – know about UMW.

Now, on the eve of her official retirement next month, she reflects on it all.

Q: What brought you to Mary Washington?
A: I covered education as a journalist with The Free Lance-Star for more than 30 years and always thought UMW would be a great place to work.

Q: Being a bridge to the media sounds daunting. How do you handle the pressure?
A: I start the day with a list, but a reporter’s deadline or Virginia Freedom of Information email request often pushes the routine tasks further down the list. I learned the importance of flexibility and taking on the most pressing tasks first. A glass of wine in the evening doesn’t hurt.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A: When media converge on campus to cover an event our office worked weeks to secure.

Q: What’s most frustrating?
A: When breaking news cancels all that. 

Q: Of which coverage are you most proud?
A: In 2011, UMW’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in honor of the late James Farmer brought national media attention to the Fredericksburg campus. Our office worked months to plan the event and secure media, which resulted in weeks of national coverage. Among them, NPR interviewed former Freedom Riders who spoke on campus, prompting nationally publicized news and feature segments. I was thrilled to be a part of such a successful event that united every member of the University. 

Q: As bestower of snow days, what kind of reaction do you get from students on campus?
A: I love it when they ask me to pose with them for photos, and I get a chuckle when Twitter is abuzz begging me to make a snow closing decision. Of course, I’m waiting, just like them, to hear from the Administration and Finance VP who makes the call. I’m just the communicator.

Q: What will you miss most?
A: The amazing University Relations team, and, of course the talented students, faculty and staff. I feel like UMW is my second home. 

Q: What will you miss least?
A: I won’t miss the 5:30 a.m. snow closing calls and the late-night calls from the police chief or administration alerting me about a crisis on campus.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: I was a “gas-pump” hostess for a Gulf gas station promotion in college. Wearing an airline stewardess outfit, I greeted customers with the line “May I fill’er up with Gulf No-Nox?”

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.