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portrait of Paul Burgett

Remembering Paul Burgett

The University dean, vice president, and ambassador was one of the community’s most recognized citizens.

About Paul Burgett


Memorial Services

In Pictures

Share Your Thoughts


Paul Burgett—musician, scholar, teacher, and University leader for over half a century—died on August 22, 2018 after a brief illness. He was 72.

Burgett, who arrived at the University’s Eastman School of Music in 1964 from St. Louis as a first-year student, became one of Rochester’s most prominent and beloved figures.

Read the Democrat & Chronicle obituary

About Paul Burgett

During a University career that spanned 54 years, Paul Burgett served in an extraordinary number of key roles: student body president at Eastman, faculty member in the Department of Music, dean of students at Eastman and for the University, advisor to four University presidents, a University vice president, and general secretary to the University’s Board of Trustees. Along the way, he steeped himself in the history of the University, becoming the leading storyteller of the institution.

Read more about Paul Burgett


Anyone who worked with Paul was deeply impressed by his commitment to each and every individual in our community. While he had a masterful grasp of the institution, its place in higher education, and its history, he remembered almost every student he ever met by name. And his genuine, heartfelt, and gracious interest in the success of every student, faculty and staff member, and administrator drove every decision he made as a University leader and every initiative he championed at the University. To say he will be missed doesn’t do justice to his lasting impact on the University community.

—Richard Feldman
President, University of Rochester

Read more from President Feldman

Paul Burgett is special in so many ways. He was a larger than life figure with a gregarious and outgoing personality, who simultaneously was among the most thoughtful and sensitive individuals in any group when thinking about the needs of others. As a proud alumnus of the Eastman School of Music with three degrees (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D), Paul was indefatigable in his support of Eastman, as well as the University as a whole. He will be deeply missed as a leader, a colleague, and especially, as a dear friend.

—Jamal Rossi
Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music

We are deeply saddened to hear the news regarding the passing of Dean Paul Burgett. As our namesake, Dean Burgett embodied the sentiment of inclusion. His warmth, his light, and his laughter made all who were graced with his presence feel like they were part of something better. Words cannot encompass what his loss means to the University and community at large. He will be forever loved and forever missed!

—Jessica Guzman-Rea ’10W (EdD)
Director, Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center

The death of Paul Burgett is a devastating loss to the University of Rochester and to our entire community. Paul was genuinely interested in and supported everyone with whom he had contact—on the River Campus, the Eastman School of Music, and in the community in organizations such as the Urban League, Hochstein School, Genesee Country Museum, the Rochester Fringe Festival, Rochester Rotary and many others. Everyone seemed to know and love Paul. One of my most significant contributions to the University was the role I played as a relatively new Trustee in transferring Paul from the Eastman School of Music to become Dean of Students for the entire University. It was my privilege to have participated with Paul in his many interactions with the Board of Trustees and in many of his community activities over more than 30 years. Paul was a positive and unforgettable influence on more people than anyone I have known. He was, and remains, the epitome of what the University of Rochester is, and works to become.

—G. Robert Witmer Jr. ’59
Chair emeritus of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees

Paul read everything from the George Eastman-Rush Rhees correspondence to Annual Reports to the Campus Times. And in telling our story, he would highlight past examples of what he called ‘inspired, effective, and generous leadership,’ and his audiences always knew that he exemplified those qualities.

—Melissa Mead
John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian

Memorial Services

The University held a public memorial service for University Vice President Emeritus and University Dean Emeritus Paul Burgett ’68E, ’76E (PhD) at 4 p.m. Tuesday, November 13, in Strong Auditorium on the River Campus.

During Meliora Weekend 2018 events for alumni, parents, and friends of the University, several tributes were held in honor of Burgett, including a program at the Burgett Intercultural Center and a moment of silence at the Eastman School of Music Medallion Ceremony. Burgett was also posthumously awarded the Frederick Douglass Medal during President Richard Feldman’s State of the University Address.

Donations in Burgett’s memory can be made to Gateways Music Festival in association with the Eastman School of Music at Please contact the Festival at (585) 232-6106 or via email at for additional information.

In Pictures

Photos and video capture only some of the moments and memories from an amazing career as a student, teacher, scholar, mentor, musician, leader, and friend.

Paul Burgett as a child, playing the violin
Paul Burgett in commencement robes is hugged by Rocky yellowjacket mascot
Paul Burgett and Rick Feldman laughing at Convocation

Paul BUrgett teaching History of Jazz, standing in front of a classroom screen that reads JAZZ IS AMERICAN MUSIC
Paul Burgett laughing with Rich Feldman and Jessica Guzman-Rae
Paul Burgett gestures dramatically while delivering a speech

View videos and photo gallery

Share Your Thoughts

To share a tribute to Paul Burgett or write a condolence, please use the form below. Your message will be added to others featured on the Messages and Condolences page. Thank you for sharing.


Condolences from the Community

Dean Burgett has had, and will have a lasting impact on my life.

Alyssa M. Shoup '10

Even though I never took a class with him...It was always stuck with him how he would greet everyone in such a loving and gregarious manner. I asked him why we didn't sing the second verse of the school's anthem and he chuckled and told me to keep looking! He'll be missed.

Gerardo Torres Davila, student

The University and the entire Rochester community has lost one of its brightest lights. Paul was a remarkable influence on a countless number of people at this great University, including me. Our eighteen year friendship, and our many lively conversations will remain with me forever. I will remember too, that each time I walked into his office, he unfailingly greeted me with “Hello friend!” He led a full and wondrous life and will be remembered by all who were fortunate enough to have known him.

Doug Phillips, Senior Vice President

Dean Burgett was an incredible inspiration to me. Seeing him, an established African American man, gave me hope when I was secretly doubtful that the path I was on would lead me to success and happiness. He showed us all what was possible when you approach life with fire and passion and I couldn't be more thankful for all the encounters I had with him.

Peyton Johnson, Eastman School of Music student

Read more messages and condolences

Paul BUrgett casts a shadow on a movie screen showing jazz musicians