Burbie, Dr. George E.

From humble beginnings in the segregated South to earning a Ph.D. at a world class university, George Edward Burbie's determination knew no bounds. Driven by compassion and a desire for social reform, he worked throughout his life to create a more just and equitable world.

Up until his final days, Geroge’s wit, charisma, generosity of spirit and hearty laugh charmed all around him. His vitality and love of life convinced family and friends that George would have a long and active retirement, but cancer had its own plans. 

In the spring of 2018, George was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He immediately began a chemotherapy regime that continued for more than two years. The treatment gained him precious time to connect with his large extended family and accomplish personal goals of writing autobiographical essays and compiling decades of genealogy work. 

But the tumor grew and the cancer treatments eventually lost their effectiveness. George Edward Burbie died Aug. 26, 2020 at home with his wife Karen by his side. 

George was born on July 18, 1945 in the tiny Arkansas community of Round Pond to Lucinda Burbie and Vennie Turner. 

George grew up among a sprawling family of aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. He was called on to watch over his younger sisters and quickly became a protective, take-charge big brother.

Describing himself as a born-in-the-womb Baptist, George was active in church. There he developed oratory and leadership skills and a spiritual foundation that became a source of strength and peace for the entirety of his life. 

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, George was 8 years old, but his rural Arkansas schools remained segregated through his secondary years. A bright student, George skipped a grade and graduated high school at age 16. He became the first in his family to attend college, starting at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a historically Black university. 

In 1963 George’s parents uprooted the family and moved to California in search of better opportunities for themselves and their children. George followed at the end of his freshman year, pausing his education to help his mother recover from a serious illness. 

As a young adult, George felt called to the ministry. After much deliberation, he chose to pursue a career in social work, knowing his life’s work would always involve serving others. George earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from California State Long Beach in 1966. Throughout his life, he remained devoted to his Baptist faith community. 

In 1971, he earned a master's degree in social welfare from the University of California Los Angeles. One of his proudest accomplishments was earning a Ph.D. in social welfare and public health from UCLA in 1983, writing his dissertation on the social and economic consequences of delayed hospital discharges.

Much of the first half of George’s career was spent as a clinical social worker at Los Angeles County Public Health, Charles Drew Medical School and Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital. In 1986, George joined the American Cancer Society as a regional director before being promoted to the California state office. He oversaw cancer service programs providing patient and family support and resources for healthcare professionals, working to improve access to quality care and the latest cancer research. 

On May 29, 1993, George married Karen Campbell, a California transplant who had grown up on a farm in Minnesota. The couple shared a deep connection and an enduring love and respect for each other. They were passionate about social work, dedicated to fighting for social justice and equality, loved to travel, believed in the importance of family and heritage, and appreciated good food and even better conversation. 

In 1996, the couple moved to Dublin, Ohio as George was promoted to Vice President of the Ohio Division of the American Cancer Society. Their son Jacob was born in 1997. 

Three years later, the family moved to Eagan, Minnesota where George would live the rest of his life. The final years of George’s career were spent overseeing teams of social workers and counselors at Ceridian Corporation.

In retirement, George continued to be an active member of Judson Memorial Baptist Church. He served on the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches for more than a decade and volunteered with The Gathering, a program for people with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Throughout his life, George was an avid sports fan, following countless professional teams and players. He coached his sons’ soccer teams. Inspired by Arthur Ashe, he played tennis regularly until the final months of his life. 

Writing poetry and personal essays was a lifelong pursuit. Following in the oral history tradition of his ancestors, George’s storytelling was brought to life by his remarkable ability to recall details from decades past. He would also recite bible verses and lyrics from favorite songs that would perfectly capture the moment. 

George was a tenacious investigator of his family history. Through extensive research of census records and genealogy websites, George pieced together an ancestry that had largely been lost. He shared his findings at family reunions, passing down the details and records to future generations. 

George will be remembered as a loving husband, father, brother, uncle, cousin and friend. As a storyteller, a teacher, a listener and a spiritual advisor, George enriched the lives of all he encountered and he will be deeply missed. 

George is survived by his spouse Karen and son Jacob, his former spouse Gail and son Derric, and siblings Diane Burbie, Delois Burbie-Love (John), Joe Turner (Cardella), Mildred Cooperwood and Mary Hawkins. 

He is preceded in death by his parents Lucinda Burbie and Vennie Turner and siblings Vennie Turner Jr., James Turner, Roosevelt Turner, George W. Turner, Sidney Turner, Willie J. Turner, Roscoe Turner and Beatrice Ray. 

Published on August 30, 2020