Robert Burch is a worthy Hall of Famer

Carolyn Cary's picture

As part of the University of Georgia’s Year 2000 millennial celebration, the University Libraries established the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. It was established as a public awards program and a permanent online exhibit honoring Georgia’s most influential writers.

On March 24 of this year, the late Robert Burch is to be added to that august body.

When I arrived in Fayette County in the spring of 1966, especially if you had a 6-year old, you soon learned about a children’s author, a native of the county, who lived near Fayetteville’s downtown.

You obtained a couple of his books, called him to see if you could drop by, and with books and son in tow, visited this very unassuming man of letters. He was always glad to autograph his books and spend time with children, even though he never married.

Later that same year, I had joined a homemaker’s group and turned in an article on its activities.

Jimmy Booth was the editor of the only newspaper here in 1966 and saw in that short written piece that I could write. This fact was news to me, and he hired me part-time to write articles for the paper.

After several months, I decided to ask a well-known author for his personal opinion as to whether I could write or not, and asked Robert Burch to drop by one afternoon.

I had cut out the articles I had written for him to look through. He told me that he didn’t need to read them, he already had, and, yes, I could write.

He also encouraged me not to take classes in writing, as I had a definite style that was all my own, and he didn’t want me to be influenced by someone to change that style.

I have been privileged to know Robert, his five brothers, and his parents. They were all quiet, unassuming people, always ready to share information or whatever they had with you.

In talking with Robert, you would never guess that he was a veteran of World War II, had traveled all over the world, honored nationally for his children’s books, and a treasured native Fayette Countian whose ancestors here went back over 120 years.

All six of the Burch boys served in World War II, all came back safely, and all continued to contribute to their community each in his own special way.

An educational public television station in Atlanta came down here one summer to make a movie of one of his books. Local boys and girls were used in is production, as well as local adults.

My son was now 9 years old, and my daughter was 6 months. There was a movie scene in the old Woolsey school, now gone, and everyone had to dress as close as possible to the mid-1930s. They became a part of this production, and Robert gave each child in it one of his autographed books.

He knew my son already had this particular one, and went out of his way to obtain another children’s book written by a friend of his, had it autographed, and it is still treasured 40 years later.

Robert was the author of 19 books, was honored with four Georgia Children’s Book Awards, and when I was a vice president of the Georgia Writer’s Association, we honored him as “Georgia Author of the Year” in 1971.

In 1990, a new school in Tyrone was named the Robert Burch Elementary School.

Just a month before we lost Robert on Christmas Day in 2007, he was the first recipient of the W. Porter Kellam Lifetime Achievement Award, named for a former director of the University of Georgia Libraries to honor outstanding contributions to literary life in Georgia.

Robert Burch has been and continues to be a fine example to follow both in letters and in community contribution.

login to post comments | Carolyn Cary's blog