Longtime UR leader Paul Burgett has died.

His death came after a brief illness, according to a news release by the University. He was 72.

A fixture at UR since 1964, Burgett had been serving as the University’s vice president, senior presidential advisor, and dean.

He is survived by his wife, Catherine Valentine, and family.

“No person in the University of Rochester community is more beloved than Paul Burgett,” University President Richard Feldman said in a statement.

“‘Dean Burgett’ touched the lives of thousands of students and of many of us among the faculty and staff as well,” Feldman continued. “He leaves the University a better institution and Rochester a richer community for his presence.”

In 2014, Burgett’s 50-year tenure was recognized with the naming of the Paul J. Burgett Intercultural Center, which is now in Douglass Commons.

The center’s goals include promoting cultural awareness, educating on identity, culture, and diversity, and facilitating intersection and collaboration between cultures.

Subsequently he, along with Feldman, then dean of the college, co-chaired the President’s Commission on Race and Diversity in 2015.

The committee recommended ways to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff through UR’s programs.

“He was a larger than life figure with a gregarious and outgoing personality, who simultaneously was among the most thoughtful and sensitive individuals in a group when thinking about the needs of others,” Dean of the Eastman School of Music Jamal Rossi said of Burgett.

Originally from St. Louis, Burgett attended Eastman and went on to become student body president there. He then served in a variety of roles including dean of students at Eastman and for the University as well as general secretary to the University’s Board of Trustees.

In addition, he was a devoted storyteller on University history, often presenting at alumni gatherings on the subject. He believed that all “who claim an association with the University, in any form or manner, will want to learn more about the institution that affected our lives deeply.”

Burgett often joked during presentations that he had witnessed much of the history himself, as part of the University since “before the Earth’s crust began to cool.”

He also involved himself heavily with the Greater Rochester community to which he belonged, serving with groups including the Urban League and the George Eastman Museum.

Furthermore, Burgett served as faculty in the Department of Music in the School of Arts & Sciences. He regularly taught two popular classes — Music of Black Americans and History of Jazz — for undergraduates.

He also championed the Gateways Musical Festival to give other classical musicians of African descent a way of showcasing their performances.

On his half-century involvement with the University, Burgett said, in a 2015 profile, “That’s not been relevant to me. Because I hang around students who never age, do they? They’re always 18 to their mid-20s or so, some a little older.”

“And when they get to the end of their studies, they leave and are replaced by newcomers. So I forget how old I am, until I look in the mirror and see my father looking back at me — at which point it’s, well, startling, I suppose.”

University flags will be lowered Friday in Burgett’s memory, and a private memorial service and celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

“Like the rest of the University of Rochester community, I will miss Paul greatly,” Feldman said. “We can honor his memory by doing what we can to respect, support, and affirm every member of the University community.”

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 kim.truebger@rochester.edu 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.


Correction (8/24/18): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Intercultural Center was named after Burgett in 2016. The center was named after him in 2014 to recognize 50 years of his service, while the renovated space in Douglass Commons was dedicated with a plaque in 2016.

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