George Burbie grew up in the segregated South in a house with no running water or electricity. From this modest start, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in social work and spent a career helping others.
Burbie’s professional work spanned four decades, starting as a clinical social worker in California to a vice president at the American Cancer Society in Ohio to a teams supervisor at an employee assistance program for Ceridian Corp. He also was an independent consultant to nonprofits.
His community work included 12 years on the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, volunteering with groups such as an Alzheimer’s respite program run by Lyngblomsten Community Services in St. Paul, Eagan 55 Plus, and Judson Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
Burbie, 75, died Aug. 26 at his home in Eagan.
“George was a very caring, compassionate person who had a natural ability to counsel grieving individuals and families,” said Davis Leino-Mills, who worked with Burbie at the American Cancer Society. “He was also very good working with professionals, a good teacher and trainer.”
His background that crossed cultures gave him an unusual perspective, said Leino-Mills, a friend who now works at a North Dakota community action council.
“He had a lot of integrity,” he said.
Burbie was born July 18, 1945, in the tiny town of Round Pond, Ark. His father, Vennie Turner, was a farmer and mother Lucinda Burbie was a domestic worker. He grew up with a large extended family around him, graduating from high school at age 16 and enrolling in the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a historically Black university.
When his family moved to California, Burbie followed and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from California State University, Long Beach, in 1966. He went on to receive a master’s degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and then a Ph.D. there in social work and public health in 1983.
Earning a Ph.D. from a major university was one of his proudest accomplishments, said his wife, Karen Burbie.
The couple moved to Minnesota in 2000, following Burbie’s career in California and Ohio. Burbie oversaw a team of social workers and counselors in the employee assistance program at Minneapolis-based Ceridian Corp., and also worked as a nonprofit consultant, said Karen Burbie.
“He was very much a people person,” she said. “People were drawn to him, and remembered him.”
A 14-year board member of the Minnesota Council of Churches, Burbie was “a significant influence on who we are,” said council CEO Curtiss DeYoung. He was a man of deep faith and “amazing insights,” he said.
“At times like this, having a person like George on the board was a great gift,” said DeYoung. “He very much saw the tie between faith and social justice.”
Burbie also wasn’t afraid to “speak his truth in a gentle but loving way,” said DeYoung. He recalled that when he was hired as the council’s CEO three years ago, Burbie said, half joking:“You’d better get to work. I’m watching you.”
Burbie was part of an intergenerational reading program run by the Eagan public schools, his wife said. And he was an avid tennis player, inspired by African American tennis champion Arthur Ashe, playing with several metro-area teams each week, she said. Her husband was also a gifted storyteller and enjoyed poetry, she said. He had organized reunions of his extended family since the 1970s, she said, often drawing more than 100 people.
In addition to his wife, Burbie is survived by sons Jacob Burbie of Minneapolis and Derric Burbie of Los Angeles, and siblings Diane Burbie, Delois Burbie-Love, Joe Turner, Mildred Cooperwood and Mary Hawkins, all of the Los Angeles area. Services have been held.