John F. Burness '67, former interim president for Franklin & Marshall College and longtime F&M trustee, died Monday, Dec. 19. He was 77.
Burness served on the Board of Trustees for 12 years in a variety of leadership roles, including chairing the trusteeship and external relations committees. Prior to assuming F&M’s interim presidency in 2010, he was a visiting professor of the practice of public policy at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University's Terry Sanford School of Public Policy, a position he resumed following his interim leadership at F&M. That appointment was preceded by 17 years of service at Duke, where he was senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, overseeing the university's federal, state and local government relations, community affairs, and campus news and communications.
“We in the F&M community are saddened by the loss of John, a steadfast supporter of his beloved alma mater, Franklin & Marshall College,” said F&M President Barbara K. Altmann. “He contributed very significantly to the success of F&M during his tenure as both trustee and interim president,and he will not be forgotten by his many friends and colleagues. We send our warm regrets and condolences to John’s wife, Anne, and his family.”
Burness became interim president in July 2010 and served in the role until spring 2011, when President Daniel R. Porterfield began his tenure as president. In an interview in summer 2010, Burness discussed his view of the interim role.
“I need to inspire people. I need to have clear values and be clear on what priorities are for the coming year and position the institution so we will be even more attractive to an outstanding candidate for president. But at the same time, I’ll empower people to achieve the objectives that we have at the institution — and I also think it’s really important to have fun.”
Just a few weeks after that interview, Burness would welcome the Class of 2014 to the F&M community during Convocation. He encouraged the members of the class to fully immerse themselves in their academic experience and pursue the twin goals of self-discovery and service to others.
“By the time you graduate, you will have had a fine education that is going to influence and enrich your daily life,” he said. “Take advantage of opportunities to serve others. Intern, study abroad, and otherwise get off campus and into the world. Doing these things will show you how to make the world, and yourself, better.”
Service and civic engagement were hallmarks of Burness’ career. While at Duke University, he led the creation of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership, a network of 12 neighborhoods near the university’s campus and the seven public schools that serve those neighborhoods. Through that initiative, Duke raised millions to support K-12 education, affordable housing, community-based health clinics, and myriad nonprofit organizations.
Before joining Duke, he served as the senior public affairs officer at three leading research universities: Cornell University, the University of Illinois, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was a consultant to many other universities, including Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of Chicago, University of Minnesota and University of Texas.
Burness is survived by his wife, Anne Williams; two sons, Evan and Sam; daughters-in-law Katherine and Danielle; four grandchildren, Calvin, Cameron, Ozzie and Isabell; a brother, Andrew, husband of Hope and father of Alex and Molly; and a brother-in-law, Michael Sundman, father of Graham and Susanna.
John F. Burness '67