Amherst Magazine

Ward Burns '50

Deceased October 5, 2008

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In Memory

Ward died Oct. 5, 2008, in Arizona, where he and Cynthia had spent much time recently with daughter Abby and grandsons Brian and Eric, both sources of great joy to Ward in his increasingly difficult last couple of years. Ward had celebrated his 80th birthday with them a few months before his death. While Ward’s short-term memory suffered and his physical incapacity grew during his last year, his Amherst recollections remained sharp and intact.

My friendship with Ward went back to our sophomore year in prep school at St. Paul’s, Garden City, New York. The story has been told of our visit to Amherst in the spring of 1946, our joint and cursory interview with Dean MacMeekin and our unexpected on-the-spot acceptances to Amherst.

After Amherst, we both migrated to Cambridge—Ward to the business school while I labored across the Charles at the law school. After Ward completed his Korean War tour with the U.S. Air Force and I had finished the bar exams, we managed to join up for the European Grand Tour (third class), a trip remembered for a turkeyless Thanksgiving in Monte Carlo and a foot race to board the channel ferry at Calais back to England to catch the Queen Mary in order to make it home two days before Christmas.

We somehow found time while starting careers and in bachelor days for skiing trips to various New England venues (many rope tow and T-bar areas). A summer exploration to Martha’s Vineyard was to lead to several summers of splitting a Katama rental once we both had acquired families. Then came lunches or dinners in New York when our schedules coincided, family baptisms and Ward’s 65th birthday party in Greenwich. Our friendship even survived a telephone call from Ward shortly after our 40th Reunion (which I had missed while overseas) informing me that I had been elected Class secretary and would I accept. I never found out what Plan B was.

Ward was very much about Amherst. As an undergraduate, he was elected to Sphinx and was president of Scarab. As a member and officer of Phi Psi, he played a major role in the tumultuous battle with its national fraternity and the ultimate decision of the Amherst chapter to stand fast on its pledging of Tom Gibbs at the cost of surrendering its national affiliation. For 35 years, Ward was an enthusiastic supporter of the Amherst library principally through his work as vice chairman of the Friends of the Amherst College Library. His contributions to the Friends were recognized by several tributes in last summer’s issue of the Friends’ newsletter.

Ward was our permanent Class treasurer, and his much anticipated reports at our Reunions will be remembered for being both succinct and comprehensive. In any event, he always assured us that our bills were paid. And, with Rick Williams, Ward took on the task of creating and executing the 50th Reunion book. Ward’s business career began with Price Waterhouse and included a stint in Brussels as a venture capital associate with Laurance and David Rockefeller. There he met and married Cynthia Butterworth. He then joined J.P. Stevens in 1965, becoming president of the textile firm in 1980 and subsequently vice chairman. When Stevens fell victim to a hostile takeover, Ward turned his many talents and energies to pro bono work. Besides Amherst, his service included the International School of Brussels and Daniel Webster College where he chaired its board of trustees. In addition to Cynthia, Abby, Brian and Eric, Ward is survived by sons David and Walton ’98.

On my last visit with Ward, as I was leaving, he called me back and said “Don’t forget me.” Friend, brother, classmate, we shall not.

—John Esquirol ’50


Thank you Uncle John for this lovely tribute to my father. 


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