Azalea Festival Pioneer Mourned

Hugh Morton
Hugh Morton

JUNE 1, 2006 -- If North Carolina had a Mount Rushmore, Hugh Morton would be on it. The developer, dreamer, photographer and environmentalist has passed away.   It is impossible to overestimate the impact Hugh Morton had on Wilmington or the state he loved so very much.

He died Thursday evening after a fight with cancer of the esophagus.  Fittingly, he died in Linville, at the foot of Grandfather Mountain which he helped preserve.  But he also had an enormous impact on this part of the state.

Hugh Morton left an impression wherever he went, through his passion and his photography. His love for Wilmington is clear.  Some say Morton made the Port City what it is.  He did in fact put Wilmington on the map.  Morton founded the Azalea Festival in 1948, a five-day event that brings hundreds of thousands of tourists into the area, as well as millions of dollars.

Morton was also fundamental in making the Cape Fear River the home of the USS Battleship North Carolina.  He also spent many hours at Airlie Gardens, fueling his love of photography.  His passion helped him save the mountain he loved by stopping the National Park Service from building the last eight miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway over Grandfather Mountain.

The man may be gone, but Hugh Morton's legacy lives on in the vitality of Wilmington and in the beauty of North Carolina as he saw it through his lens.

The Morton family plans to welcome visitors at Grandfather Mountain Sunday night.  A memorial service at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro is planned, but the family had not yet set a date. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts be made to the School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Reported by Sarah Warlick