An Inspiration to Us All Passes

Dec 14, 1998

John Burgess, co-founder of Carter & Burgess (Fort Worth, TX), passed away on November 26th. He was a civil engineer who founded the now 1,400-plus-person firm with his childhood friend and fellow Boy Scout, Eugene (Gene) Carter, landscape architect, back in 1939. I last saw John about a year ago when I was visiting the firm’s headquarters. I was standing in the reception area catching up on old times with Jana Kidd, the world’s greatest receptionist ever (no kidding!), and John came up to me, and put his arm around me, and asked me how I was doing. He had a set of plans rolled up under his arm that were for a pro-bono project he was doing either for his community or his church, I can’t recall. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. Even though he was 85 at the time of his death, John had an energy level like no other I have ever seen! He used to bound up the stairs, two at a time, well into his late 70s. His wife of 50+ years, “Flo,” who he always referred to as “my sweetie,” passed away about five years ago. She and John were always close, and I never heard him say a bad word about her. But her death didn’t stop him from living. He kept a social calendar that would tire out a 25-year-old! Right up until his death, John was making new friends and going out dancing “only four nights a week!” (His words, not mine!) He went on trips around the world. He volunteered for everything. And he was never too busy for a nice chat about current or past events. John was a no-bull, can-do guy. He was a WWII veteran and participant in the landing at Okinawa, as well as major battles in the Philippines and China. He survived a couple of bouts with cancer. There was no obstacle John Burgess couldn’t overcome. One time, back in 1985, we were debating the exact year that the company first got into the mechanical-electrical-plumbing engineering business. “Was it 1970 or ‘71?”— that was the question on the table. John was walking by the conference room and overheard us. He came into the room and asked what we were talking about. We told him. He said, “Hell— we were doing M/E/P work back in ‘39!” I said, “How can that be, John? You are a civil engineer and Gene is a landscape architect.” He said, “I’m an engineer, aren’t I? I just went over to the Fort Worth Library, got a book, and we’d wire that building up!” I thought, “Ah, the good old days!” John Burgess (and Gene Carter) weren’t selfish, either. Both always lived within their means and when it came time to pass on the reigns of the company to Wilton Hammond, their chosen successor and current chairman, they did it willingly and decisively. They let Wilton and the others run the company with a minimum amount of interference. They didn’t set up an undoable internal transition that saddled the firm with a huge debt, either. Because of this unselfishness and willingness to get out of the way when they needed to, the company grew and grew, and is today one of the leading multidiscipline firms, with 24 offices across the country. Ô That spirit continues to guide the current generation of leaders. Carter & Burgess President Jerry Allen puts it best: “John Burgess was one of those people who seemed too good to be true. He treated everybody with respect, which in turn made him one of the most respected men I’ve ever known.” There were some funny stories we used to tell about John. I will never forget the time back in the early ‘80s when we got a call from the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport that one of our cars was sitting in the parking garage there, running, with the keys locked inside. John was in a hurry for a trip he was going on and simply forgot to pull the keys from the ignition! John Burgess was also a pioneer when it came to how he dressed. He was a trendsetter in that he frequently wore braces (or suspenders) long before they were popularized on Wall Street. I’m going to miss old John Burgess although his spirit goes on in the company he founded. He really did live a model life. If only we all could follow his example, the A/E/P business (and the world) would be a better place. God bless him. Originally published 12/14/1998

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