Pastors' Memoirs

Henry Walker Burruss, 1911-1996

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The Rev. Henry Walker Burruss died in a Charlottesville nursing home on December 9, 1996. He was 85 years old. He left behind a wife, three children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and an indelible Christian influence on the lives of hundreds.

His intention, upon entering Randolph-Macon College in 1930, was to become a doctor, attending to people’s physical needs. Instead, he devoted his life helping to develop young minds and ministering to people’s souls. The Great Depression made a career choice with low cost training imperative. Henry chose the field of education, becoming a memorable teacher and principal in Virginia schools, including Albemarle, Mathews and Essex counties.

An example of his Christian precepts, providing the role model for others to emulate, took place during the mid-’60s. As principal of Tappahannock High School, his sensitive handling of the integration issue contributed greatly to averting the type of crisis that frequently shamed neighboring Southside schools. In those troubled times, as in so many throughout his life, Henry used his seemingly innate ability to relate to others to diffuse difficult situations, often through application of his famously quick wit and droll sense of humor. Even when there was little reason for levity, Henry managed to find a chuckle somewhere, saying, "I’m just laughing to keep from crying!"

At age 58, when most men are eyeing a lakefront fishing retreat or leisurely days on the golf course, Henry set out to follow his heart — and his father, the Rev. Frank Burruss — into the ministry. He completed his pastoral training at Duke University and served parishes in South Fluvanna, Batesville and Bethlehem Charges before his official retirement from full service in 1981.

Abhorring the option of discontinuing the work he loved, he continued serving as a replacement pastor on the Nelson, Greene and McDowell charges, stopping only when rapidly failing health forced him to leave his beloved pulpit forever in 1986.

Burruss lettered in track at Randolph-Macon and received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia; he created jewelry from semiprecious stones; and he always enjoyed a family reunion or a church picnic more than anything.

He had a wonderful ability to accept each individual for his or her own personal worth, ignoring popular opinion and common assessment. What he refused to accept was hypocrisy, sloth, disloyalty, meanness of spirit and — especially — anyone not doing their best. Long before it became an inner-city catch phrase, the Rev. Burruss had made "doing the right thing" his personal creed. This is what he taught; this is what he preached; this is what he lived.

Even in his last months, the Rev. Burruss’ appreciation of favorite things endured — the lively telling of a story, hearing family talking and laughing around him and seeing old friends. We, the family, thank each and every one of those who were with him — in person or through prayers — during that time.


- Mrs. Lucille Foller Burruss
- Mrs. Kathryn Burruss Stapleton
- Mrs. Barbara Burruss Lee
- Mr. Henry Walker Burruss Jr.

 

 

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