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Retired history prof. Robert Burns dies Fri.

Observer Staff Report | Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Retired professor of history Robert Burns died Friday after a long illness. He was 83.

Prior to teaching at Notre Dame, Burns served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He later graduated from Northeastern University and went on to obtain his master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Harvard.

Burns began at Notre Dame in 1957 and taught courses in Irish and British history. He also was the author of a two-volume study on “Irish Parliamentary Politics in the Eighteenth Century” and “Being Catholic, Being American: The Notre Dame Story,” a two-volume history of Notre Dame from its foundation to 1952.

Thomas Schlereth, professor of American studies and a Notre Dame alumnus, remembers Burns as a teacher who “really cared about and kept in touch with his students.”

“Bob was an affectionate and humorous man both in and out of the classroom,” Schlereth said in a press release. “I will always think of him as a story broker. He always had an engaging story to tell, and he always expected an engaging story in return.”

Phillip Gleason, a Notre Dame historian and colleague of Burns, described him as  “extraordinary in his adaptability, generosity and willingness to take on other duties in service to the University.”

Burns served the University beyond his teaching and scholarship by taking on a variety of administrative duties. He was acting editor of the University’s Review of Politics, Notre Dame’s journal of political philosophy, from 1967 to 1968.

He also directed a year-long program to train high school history teachers in 1967 and served as dean of Notre Dame’s summer session from 1969 to 1971. Burns was an associate dean of the College of Arts and Letters from 1971 to 1981 and served as acting dean from 1981 to 1983.

“The accomplishment in which Bob took the greatest pride while in the dean’s office was his initiative of Notre Dame’s highly successful London program for juniors in Arts and Letters, which provided both students and faculty in the college an incomparably enriching experience,” Gleason said in the release.

Burns retired from Notre Dame in 1995.

“Bob was heartily devoted to Notre Dame and served her in a great variety of ways,” Gleason said. “Perhaps the most lasting testimony to his love for the University is represented by his ‘Notre Dame Story.’
“He will be missed by his many friends, and the memory of Robert E. Burns should be long cherished here.”