Former dean Sherman Burson dies at 88

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sherman Burson Jr., inaugural dean of UNC Charlotte’s then-College of Arts and Sciences, first chair of the Chemistry Department and the first Charles H. Stone Professor of Chemistry, passed away on Monday, Dec. 3.

Burson, 88, of Chatham, Mass., was born to Edith Longsworth Burson and Sherman Burson in Pittsburgh, Pa. on Dec. 24,1923. The family moved to Massachusetts, where Burson graduated from Harwich High School. He was president of his high school class.

He attended the University of Alabama as a freshman, before returning to Pennsylvania, where he worked and attended the University of Pittsburgh.  He was drafted during World War II, and he entered the Army Specialized Training Program, spending 11 months at Louisiana State University in the special program. He was posted to Europe just after V-E Day and spent over three years in the U.S. Army.

Following the war, he returned to the University of Pittsburgh, where he earned a bachelor’s degree and doctoral degree in chemistry. He joined Lederle Laboratories in Pearl River, NY as a research chemist.

Burson had long wanted to teach, and in 1957, Lederle Laboratories granted him a leave of absence to pursue an academic career. He joined Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer as the head of the Chemistry Department. At the urging of Bonnie Cone, he accepted a position at Charlotte College, just before the institution became the fourth campus of the University of North Carolina in 1965.

He was a chemistry professor and chair of the Chemistry Department, which achieved accreditation from the American Chemical Society under his leadership. UNC Charlotte’s first chancellor, Dean Colvard, appointed Burson acting dean of the College of Science and Mathematics in 1973.

In 1980, Chancellor E.K. Fretwell named him dean of the newly formed College of Arts and Sciences (now the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences), formed by the merger of the College of Science and Mathematics with the College of Humanities and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He held this post until retiring in June 1985.

Burson received the NCNB (now Bank of America) Award for Teaching Excellence and was named the first Charles H. Stone Professor of Chemistry. In 1999, UNC Charlotte re-dedicated the Physical Sciences Building and named it in his honor. The building’s design won a national architectural award and was included in the American School and Universities Architectural Portfolio for 1986.

In 2001, Burson was among the people honored by the American Chemical Society for more than 50 years of membership. Burson served as chair of the Piedmont Chapter of the American Chemical Society, held positions of the Charlotte Friends Meeting, and was active in peace, social justice and community activities. He served several terms on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, appointed by the mayor and chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners.

Burson and his wife, Thea, moved back to Cape Cod in 1987, where he was active in organizations including Eldredge Library Book Group, Retired Men’s Association, Yarmouth Friends Meeting, United Nations Association, AARP, and an active memoirs group. He also served as a docent at the Chatham Railroad Museum and was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts to serve on the Chatham Housing Authority.

He enjoyed sailing his boat, Mother Macree, and he traveled in many countries on five continents with his family and friends. He also traveled with Elderhostel, the UNC Charlotte Travel Seminar, Friendship Force and Servas. The Bursons hosted numerous Servas and Friendship Force visitors in their home.

Burson used his substantial gifts to improve the lives of others. He dazzled and entertained with his intellect and wit, and led and mentored with compassion. While he dealt with Parkinson’s disease and other issues in later life, his fortitude, perseverance, kindness and humor never wavered.

“Sherman was the finest man I ever met.  It was a privilege to know him,” said Emeritus Professor Thomas D. Walsh.

Burson is survived by his wife of 68 years, Theodora Burson; his four children, Valerie Burson (David Aldridge) of Houston, Texas; Laurie Gates (Mark Massoni) of South Chatham; Sherrie Burson (Robert Ralls) of McLean, Va.; and Sherman “Shan” L. Burson III (Linda Franklin) of Moose, Wyo. He also is survived by his four grandchildren: Serj Gates, Brittany and Lindsey Aldridge, and Austin Ralls; his sister, Shirley Hauck of Gibsonia, Pa.; and brother, Bill Burson of Farmington, N.M.

Donations may be sent to the Yarmouth Friends Meeting, 58 North Main Street, South Yarmouth, MA 02644 or to a charity of the donor’s choice. A memorial service will be held on December 10 at 11 AM at the Yarmouth Friends Meeting, 58 North Main Street, South Yarmouth, MA 02644.