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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Susan Burgess' Memorial Service, Hundreds Attend

Hundreds Gather To Say Farewell To Susan Burgess

Hundreds said good-bye to one of Charlotte’s most tireless public leaders Saturday, as former city councilwoman and mayor pro tem Susan Burgess was laid to rest.

Burgess died Wednesday at her home after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 64. She resigned her post just more than a week before her death, in a surprise appearance at a city council meeting.

Sunday, council members, former mayors and several other elected leaders joined family and friends at Covenant Presbyterian Church in uptown Charlotte to remember her life.

"She gave everything she had until the last minute,” said Mayor Anthony Foxx, “and our community really needs to be grateful to have a public servant who is willing to give that kind of life and spirit to our city.”

Foxx choked up while publicly expressing his thanks to Burgess at her last meeting; he said he prayed for the ability to get through the eulogy he gave Saturday’s service.

During his public attribution, he recalled Burgess’s willingness to tackle tough issues.

“She was a force incapable of being silenced,” he said, “a fighter who believed in the power of people.” Foxx wrapped up the eight-minute tribute by saying, “I will miss her, and Charlotte will miss a fighter for all people.”

After the service, colleagues at all levels of government praised Burgess’s work ethic, which they said transcended party lines.

Burgess was active in the Democratic party, and often clashed with Republican council members on controversial issues.

Yet Republican council members praised her professionalism.

“We had many, many political battles,” said former mayor Pat McCrory, “but one thing I could never do is question her commitment to this community.”

Former Mayor Richard Vinroot served while Burgess was a member of the school board. “She was universal politician – friends all over the city,” said Vinroot. “Partisan, yes, but not one to personalize her differences.”

Former Mayor Harvey Gantt didn’t serve while Burgess held office, but said the two had a warm relationship that involved discussing issues.

He said Saturday’s service reflected that. “It was really a celebration of a great a public servant, and a woman I’ve respected since I've known her,” said Gantt.

U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, also a former Charlotte mayor, recalled a more personal side of her relationship with Burgess.

“Susan was one of the first to reach out to me when I had breast cancer many, many years ago,” recalled Myrick, “and was just a special friend to me, which I suppose most people didn't know.”

Others praised Burgess’s position as a role model for women in politics.

Minister Robert Henderson told a story about Burgess earning a spot as a page in the West Virginia legislature, a position no young woman had ever held.

The legislature didn’t allow her to serve, which Henderson said set Burgess on a path of advocating for women and minorities.

Mecklenburg County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts said Burgess followed through. “She was absolutely a supporter of having women, minorities.. voices that need to be at the table because they reflect our community,” said Roberts.

Burgess also encouraged young adults to get involved in the community.

A scholarship has been endowed at UNC-Charlotte in Burgess’s name, for students studying public administration.

Burgess’s son will take her seat on the city council until the end of her term.

Mayor Foxx said Burgess’s legacy goes beyond scholarships.

He said her greatest legacy is her own children, and next to that, the people she’s help as a councilwoman – including many of the city’s less fortunate citizens.

“There are kids who have afterschool programs today because of Susan Burgess,” said Foxx. “There is affordable housing that exists today because of Susan Burgess. There are numerous other things just like that throughout our community and those are really the legacies she cared the most about.”

Burgess’s family held a private funeral and interment before Saturday's memorial service.

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Sources: WCNC, Google Maps

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