Statement from University President Richard Feldman
It is my sad duty to inform you that Paul Burgett has passed away after a brief illness. I am sure that the entire University community joins me in offering condolences to his spouse, Catherine (Kay) Valentine, to his family, and to his many, many friends and colleagues. There will be a private memorial service and a celebration of Paul’s life at a later date.
No person in the worldwide University of Rochester community is more beloved than Paul Burgett. No brief statement—actually, not even a lengthy obituary—could capture the full extent of Paul’s profound contributions to this university. “Dean Burgett” touched the lives of thousands of students and of many of us among the faculty and staff as well. Paul advised four University presidents and numerous cabinet colleagues on a wide variety of issues, was general secretary to the Board of Trustees, and was a leader in the Rochester community for decades. Paul accomplished what we all strive for: He leaves the University a better institution and Rochester a richer community for his presence.
Advocating for the history and creativity of black classical musicians and composers was never far from Paul’s heart. He championed the Gateways Music Festival, a multiday series of concerts, performances, and other events designed to provide classical musicians of African descent a performance showcase of their own. Paul helped nurture and strengthen the festival’s ties to the Eastman School of Music; at the time of his death he was chair of the Gateways Board of Directors.
In 2016, the University named the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center. That honor evoked several essential things about Paul: his involvement in all facets of student life, his deep commitment to issues of diversity and inclusion, his fascination with exploring other cultures in his travels with Kay, and his love of the arts, especially music. How many alumni count his courses on the History of Jazz and the Music of Black Americans as highlights of their Rochester experience?
I have known Paul since he moved to the River Campus as University dean of students 30 years ago, but I got to know him better when I was named dean of the College in 2006. I sought him out for advice on a wide range of issues. He was deeply thoughtful about administrative matters, especially those involving students, and had a special appreciation for the complementary roles of Wallis Hall and the College. He was extraordinarily kind and supportive, with a rich historical perspective on any issue that arose. I especially appreciated his advice on diversity issues, which he approached with great empathy combined with a clear-eyed realism.
We recently co-chaired the Commission on Race and Diversity. He excelled at the public sessions. He knew people; he knew history. He had a certain ease that made people comfortable. He was unfailingly respectful, supportive and affirming towards all, especially students.
Like the rest of the University of Rochester community, I will miss Paul greatly. We can honor his memory by doing what we can to respect, support and affirm every member of the University community.
The University flags will be lowered tomorrow in memory of Paul.
Messages of condolence to be shared with Paul’s family can be sent to his friend and longtime assistant at the University, Kim Truebger, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in hard copy to Box 270011, University of Rochester, Rochester 14627-0011.
Remembrances can also be shared on a special memorial website for Paul: www.rochester.edu/news/remembering-paul-burgett.