In memory of
BURR Al Burr, an educator and high school principal with an international reputation for defining and advocating principles based on respect for teachers and students, died at his home in Hebron, Kentucky on September 25, 2016. He was 85. Dr. Albert Leon Burr's 30-year career as a high school principal emphasized hiring and nurturing master teachers. He sought to understand the context in which the student lived rather than following policies such as zero-tolerance. He sought out and supported the underperforming student as much as he supported the star student. School suspensions hurt student progress and were a last resort in his schools. He was a proponent of desegregation in St. Louis area schools. He cultivated lifelong relationships with students. Dr. Burr chaired the committee that prepared the Greater St. Louis area proposal in the America 2000 competition to develop a new kind of school for the 21st century. Two St. Louis County high schools he served received the National Secondary School Recognition Award. Dr. Burr was recognized as one of the nation's 100 most outstanding school executives by the American School Board Journal and Executive Educator. He was named one of the 60 most exemplary principals in the United States in a study by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Dr. Burr served as the national chairman of the National Honor Society, was a member of the board of directors of the National Merit Scholarship Program, and served on the national finalist selection panel for the Disney Dreamers and Doers program. Dr. Burr received the highest awards presented by the Missouri Association of Secondary School Principals and the Missouri State Department of Education, the Robert Howe Award and the Missouri Pioneer in Education Award, respectively. "When I was a young administrator in Parkway Al was my mentor. I remember sitting in a contentious meeting of principals with the superintendent," said Don Senti. "It was not going well. Al put everything in perspective when he said, 'When it comes to kids, there is no possible answer to some questions other than Yes.'" "Burr's approach to education was always focused on students," remembers Stone Phillips, graduate of Parkway West High School who went on to be co-anchor of Dateline NBC. "In my estimation, Al Burr was one of Missouri's gifts to the world—as honest and direct as Harry Truman, as astute, colorful and charismatic as Mark Twain. His stage was smaller, but the impact he had on those of us who were lucky enough to know him was no less profound." Burr also was an advocate for interscholastic sports as a means of building character and values—thus eligibility to participate in sports should become a right and not a privilege. In 2000 he was inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame. He was the first principal to receive the National Award of Merit from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators' Association. He served as president of both the National Federation of State High School Activities and the Missouri State High School Activities Association. Dr. Burr was the second recipient (after Mr. Keller) of the Irvin A. Keller Award, presented to the person who contributed the most to high school athletics in Missouri. Al Burr was an educator who loved kids and had unlimited respect for them. This is perhaps best characterized by his annual practice of memorizing homemade flash cards that matched the names and faces of incoming students. On the first day of school he could greet students by name. His schools often had more than 2,300 students. "I was sitting in the library as an incoming sophomore," said former student David Brown. "The overhead speaker summoned me to come to Dr. Burr's Office. I had known of this imposing figure from my older brother but had never met him. Within minutes this larger-than-life figure would be sitting across his dark colored desk from me saying 'Welcome to Parkway West, David. I just wanted to meet you.' Over the years that followed I went from calling him Dr. Burr to "Pseudo-Papa." Two years later at the beginning of my senior year I learned my family was going to move to Pittsburgh. When I told this to Dr. Burr, without a moment's hesitation, he said 'Well, you will live with Katy and me.' Within weeks my high school principal, his wife Katy and son David, would become my surrogate family." Born in Bonne Terre, Missouri on December 29, 1930, Burr was the son of Bert and Bertha Burr. He was the eighth of eight children and the first in his family to attend high school. He earned a degree in mathematics at the now Missouri State University (where he attended on a basketball scholarship and played varsity tennis), a master's degree from Colorado State University, and a Ph.D. from St. Louis University. He served two years in the Army's 11th Airborne Division as personal secretary to a Major General. He first taught and coached in his hometown Bonne Terre. His first year as a basketball coach resulted in a 13-0, undefeated record. He introduced interscholastic tennis to Bonne Terre and one student made the state tournament. Dr. Burr arrived in St. Louis County in 1957 to teach math and was part of the team that opened Parkway's first secondary school, Parkway Junior/Senior High School. He was Parkway's first assistant principal, first junior high principal, first director of Parkway Adult Education, the first director of the Parkway Summer School, the principal of Parkway High School (later Central HS), and first principal of Parkway West High School. In the fall of 1981 Burr moved to Clayton High School. Burr retired as a principal in 1991 and then conducted educational and leadership seminars throughout the United States, Canada, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands. Burr and his wife eventually moved to Hebron, Kentucky in 2001 to be closer to family. Perhaps Burr's most appreciated honor came directly from those he served. In 2014 he threw out the first pitch in the last home game for the St. Louis Cardinals. For the hundreds of students and teachers who attended, it represented the celebration of a long career. Dr. Al Burr started practicing for the first pitch at the beginning of the 2014 baseball season. Months later, on September 21, Dr. Burr stood at the mound in Busch Stadium, wound up and let the ball fly 60 feet and 6 inches into the catcher's mitt. As the crowd roared, a broad smile spread across the face of this 83-year-old educator known more for his bold brand of leadership than his curve ball. He exhaled, waved enthusiastically to the crowd, and jogged confidently to the embrace of his wife Katy. People came from all over the country to share the experience with Al. He then spent the game doing what made him happiest—reconnecting with former students and sharing stories. He was preceded in death by his brothers and sisters, William, Louis, Walter, Reva, Ethel, Charlie and Viola. He is survived by his wife Catherine (Katy), stepson David Murray and wife Lori, grandchildren Alex, Reed, Spenser, Noel, and Max, brother-in-law Buzz Reed, sister-in-law Susie Reed, and many wonderful nieces and nephews. A local service for friends and neighbors will be held on October 20th at Linnemann Funeral Home, 1940 Burlington Pike, Burlington, KY 41005. Visitation from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., service at 7:00 p.m. A private burial will be held near Bonne Terre, Missouri. All are welcome to a large celebration of Dr. Burr's life and legacy, which will be held at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, at Chesterfield Presbyterian Church, 15037 Clayton Rd, Chesterfield, MO 63017. The family suggests memorial contributions be made to the Al Burr Educators Make a Difference Fund through the Parkway Alumni Association online or by mail to 455 N. Woods Mill Road, Chesterfield, MO 63017. The Al Burr Educators Make a Difference fund was founded by former students who want to honor Al and continue the legacy of his inspirational style of leadership.
View Full Obituary ›