Anne Webb Burnham, David Campbell Burnham

Anne Webb Burnham and David Campbell Burnham, married for nearly 62 years, died hours apart last week of unrelated, natural causes. They were residents of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, a suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, and of Fishers Island, New York. They leave three sons and daughters-in-law, Paul Burnham and Karen Birck of Wilton; John Burnham and Rachel Balaban of Middletown, Rhode Island, and Stephen and Krysia Burnham of Newton, Massachusetts, and a daughter, Louise Burnham Packard of Lexington, Massachusetts. They also leave ten grandchildren including Elizabeth (WHS ’01) and David (WHS ’04), and many nieces and nephews.

Anne was the last survivor of the six children of Bayard and Anita Webb; Dave, the last survivor of the four children of Rufus and Louise Burnham. Anne graduated from Oberlin College in 1947 at the age of twenty, Dave from Yale University in 1950 at the age of twenty-one. They met when teachers at the affiliated schools of Northfield School for Girls and Mount Hermon School, respectively, in 1951 and were married in June of 1952.

Aside from Dave’s years in the Marine Corps, Dave and Anne were teachers and school administrators their entire working careers and beyond.  His fields were English and religion, hers mathematics. After Northfield and Mount Hermon, they served Loomis-Chaffee School and Miss Porter’s School in the Hartford area, and later Moses Brown School and Lincoln School in Providence, where Dave served the former as Headmaster for sixteen years. Although they formally retired in 1994, Dave subsequently taught English in Japan and served as the interim headmaster of Northwood School in Lake Placid, New York, and of St. Andrew’s School in Barrington, Rhode Island, while Anne tutored dozens of students in mathematics at each school.

After St. Andrew’s, Dave and two friends started to form the Paul Cuffee School, a maritime-themed charter school in Providence named for a prominent merchant sailor of color from the late 18th century. Dave served as the initial Chairman of its Board of Trustees, and remained very much the active trustee until his death, visiting the school on a near-daily basis to provide assistance and encouragement to students, teachers, staff and administrators alike. The school has grown one grade per year since it first opened its doors, and graduates its first senior class this week.

Neither Dave nor Anne slowed down in retirement; each led many local non-profit organizations until death. They were particularly active in the Community Church of Providence, where Dave taught adult Sunday School and occasionally guest preached, where Anne was treasurer, and where each took a turn (or two) as Church moderator. Providence media has referred to Dave and Anne as “distinguished,” “prominent,” “legendary” and “esteemed” members of that city’s educational community. A Moses Brown trustee and long-time friend maintains that, as Headmaster, Dave almost single-handedly saved that school from likely financial and educational bankruptcy. Dave, though, never accepted praise for himself without giving equal or greater credit to Anne.

Blessed with a phenomenal memory, Dave was always able to learn the name of each new student in the first seven weeks of the school year, and, like Anne, was genuinely interested in creating and maintaining a personal relationship with each — a relationship which often lasted well into the student’s adulthood. Both were regular correspondents with hundreds of their former students and colleagues, for whom they were personal and professional mentors and cheerleaders. Many of them viewed Anne and Dave as surrogate parents.

A combined memorial service will be held at 11:00 AM on June 21, at the Central Congregational Church in Providence. There will also be a combined memorial service at Wilton Congregational Church at 7:00 PM on the evening of June 17 for Connecticut family and friends.

Donations may be made to the Anne & David Burnham Scholarship Fund, Northfield Mount Hermon School, 1 Lamplighter Way, Mount Hermon, MA 01354; to the David Burnham Maritime Fund, Paul Cuffee School, 459 Promenade Street, Providence, RI 02908; or to the Community Church of Providence, 372 Wayland Avenue, Providence RI 02906.