Monday, April 22, 2024

John Kendrick Burns, Jr., 76

WILMINGTON — John Kendrick Burns, Jr., was born on August 24, 1946 at Babies Hospital in Wrightsville Beach, NC and passed away peacefully on January 12, 2023, at Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, in Wilmington, NC. He was the son of John Kendrick Burns and Maude Bryan Burns of Whiteville, NC.

He was preceded in death by his parents; his sisters, Kay Burns Russ and Rebecca Burns Frazier; and niece, Allison Burns.

John is survived by his wife of 39 years, Patricia Kellett Burns; his children, Sarah Burns and Kelly Burns Pike and husband Jordan Pike, and grandchildren, Bennett and Caroline, all of Wilmington, NC. He is also survived by sister-in-law Joan Kellett, of Harding Township, NJ and brother-in-law Robert Kellett and wife Alice, of Bedminster, NJ.

John is also survived by his brother, William Burns and wife Linda, of Punta Gorda, FL; niece Meg Holler and husband Roy of Roxboro, NC; niece Amy Alberts and husband Matt of Madison, NC; nephew Brantley Burns of Cape Coral, FL; niece, Morgan Frazier of Charlotte, NC; brother-in-law Bob Frazier of Sunset Beach, NC; brother-in-law Harvey Russ and wife Joann of Hickory, NC; and many cousins, great-nieces, and great-nephews.

John is also survived by his first wife Brenda Knelson and her children, Mitzi Plummer Johnson, Todd Plummer, and Lou Plummer, for whom John played an integral role in their young lives.

Special acknowledgement is owed to sister-in-law Joan Kellett, and family friend Joan Pomnitz, of Wilmington, NC, for their lifelong support of John and family, especially during his final years.

John grew up in Whiteville, NC and attended Whiteville High School. He served as the Managing Editor of the Whiteville High School High-Times newspaper, and he attended Governor’s School for Gifted Students at Salem College during his junior year. He graduated Valedictorian of his class.

After high school, John attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in French and minored in Spanish. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Eta Sigma in 1968. He lived in Ehringhaus dormitory, which is also where his daughter Kelly ended up living during her freshman year at Carolina.

After graduation, he taught at-risk high school students in rural areas of North Carolina for several years. Seeing a need for his students to read about positive role models, John often drove to Chapel Hill to buy books with his own money to give to his students. He was known to teach U.S. and World History by singing and playing his guitar, and he endeared himself to students and staff by organizing school talent shows.

From there, he began a career in journalism, working his way up from reporter, to city editor, to editor for several Gannett Company newspapers across North Carolina. As editor of the Jacksonville Daily News in the late 1970s, John used his platform to highlight social issues in the community. In 1981, John was honored by the North Carolina Press Association for his editorial writing.

By 1982, he yearned to make real changes, not just write about them. Pat encouraged him to become a lawyer, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. John received a near perfect score on his LSAT and was accepted into seven different law schools across the South. He attended Wake Forest School of Law on a full scholarship and graduated in 1984.

John began his private practice in Wilmington, NC in his office on Princess Street in 1985 and continued practicing law until 2020. He handled a variety of cases, from criminal to civil, but he enjoyed family law the most. He often said that practicing family law gave him the chance to help people by creating order from chaos. John was a longtime member of the American Bar Association, North Carolina Bar Association and The Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

One of John’s cases that was most dear to his heart was argued and won before the North Carolina Supreme Court. His hard work resulted in better working conditions for police, fire, and emergency medical workers in North Carolina.

John had a robust voice that was revered both in the courtroom and on stage in local community theater productions, such as The Music Man, Damn Yankees, and Canterbury Tales. John and Pat loved performing together in Cinderella. John also enjoyed watching his daughter, Sarah, take the stage herself.

John loved being in nature and was known for taking his Golden Retrievers for long walks every day, no matter the weather. Even during hurricanes, he would wait until the eye of the storm to walk his dogs. He loved birds as well, and he could identify nearly any bird native to the South. He had a passion for literature and all kinds of music, from great classical works to The Beatles. Friends and family treasured his very particular sense of humor.

A memorial service for John will be held on Saturday, February 4 at 2 p.m. at Andrew’s Mortuary Chapel on 1617 Market Street in Wilmington. The family will receive friends at 1 p.m. prior to the 2 p.m. service in the Chapel.

In lieu of flowers, John’s family asks that you honor John by making a donation to your local no-kill animal shelter or The Cape Fear Audubon Society.

Thank you to the staff of Elderhaus at the Lake, the staff of Lower Cape Fear LifeCare, the staff of Senior Health Center, and to Pine Valley Methodist Church Durable Equipment Ministry.

We would also like to thank the friends and co-workers of Pat, Kelly, and Sarah, who stuck by their sides as they navigated difficult life changes. Your support will never be forgotten. As the Beatles say, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Condolences may be shared with the family here.

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