Gerald 'Bummy' Burstein

September 4, 2018

Dear Campus Community:
I am profoundly saddened to inform you of the passing of Gerald “Bummy” Burstein, ’50 H-’86, on Friday, August 31 at home in Moreno Valley, California. Bummy was 91 years old.

Bummy was one of the university’s best-known and most instantly recognizable alumni. As a transfer student, he spent only three years on campus, but his association with Gallaudet spanned 71 years and nine university presidents. During this time, he led, served, advocated, and contributed to our community in countless ways. He understood well the importance of leadership and effective and inclusive community engagement. Bummy was a quintessential citizen of the Gallaudet community and the broader deaf community, leading by example and constantly encouraging others to be of service and to give back-values that he held deeply.

Gerald Burstein was born on December 29, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York, or as he always said, “Brooklyn, U.S.A.” He attended Junior High School 47 and graduated from Charles Evans Hughes High School. After attending The City College of New York for one year, he transferred to Gallaudet College, receiving his bachelor’s degree in education in 1950. He left Gallaudet with both his diploma and the nickname “Bummy,” bestowed upon him by friends because of his unswerving loyalty to “Dem Bums,” the Brooklyn Dodgers. Throughout his adult life, Bummy was better known by his nickname than his birth name.

During his 52 years as an educator in Minnesota and California, Bummy promoted Gallaudet at every opportunity to students, families, professionals, and the general public. Early on, he became involved in alumni affairs, first locally, then nationally. His tenure on the Gallaudet University Alumni Association Board of Directors lasted nearly 30 years; his presidency 13 years.
Bummy’s GUAA presidency coincided with the 1988 Deaf President Now (DPN) movement.

Under his leadership, GUAA made the first significant donation to support student protesters. Bummy’s forceful statements on behalf of the university’s thousands of alumni carried great weight. On the fourth day of the protest, he said, “The Gallaudet University Board’s decision to select a hearing president is a setback for deaf people everywhere…If Gallaudet does not exert leadership in this area, no one else will.” It is believed that Bummy’s advocacy contributed to the success of the DPN movement. Upon the conclusion of his three decades of service, the GUAA Board named Bummy their first-ever Board Member Emeritus.

Bummy was the second known deaf person to earn the Certified Professional Parliamentarian designation of the American Institute of Parliamentarians. He shared his expertise generously with the community, providing training across the United States and Canada for over 200 organizations, including several within Gallaudet University. He understood the connection between leadership and the ability to facilitate meetings in ways that ensured that the values of democracy and community engagement were upheld.

Bummy’s ongoing training of and investment in the deaf community built and strengthened individual leaders, organizations, clubs, and communities, including his beloved GUAA. All of this contributed to the strength of our deaf community today. Consistent with the way he led his life and our community, his charitable donations led to the establishment of what is now known as the Burstein Center for Excellence in Leadership and Innovation. He gave generously to other causes as well, including the National Association of the Deaf, the American Institute of Parliamentarians, and The Community Foundation of Riverside, California.

In 1986, when Gallaudet College became Gallaudet University, Bummy was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa. A lesser person might have considered this honor the culmination of a life well-lived. Not so Bummy; he became even more active. He knew the value of giving back to one’s alma mater, of supporting students with financial need, and of endowing programs that matter.

Bummy’s gifts to the university total well over $1 million. He made gifts large and small, and even designated his honoraria for parliamentary procedure workshops directly to Gallaudet. Besides his investment in the center bearing his name, he was instrumental in the founding of the Gallaudet University Museum. Bummy contributed toward capital construction projects, including the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center. Finally, he established one of the alumni association’s endowment funds.

Bummy tried to inculcate in his fellow alumni a culture of charitable giving. He led several alumni giving challenges that brought to the University more than $1 million.

In 1992, the Laurent Clerc Cultural Fund of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association presented Bummy with its Alice Cogswell Award. At the 2005 Commencement, he received the first-ever Deaf President Now Leadership Award. When the university celebrated its 150th anniversary in July 2014, Bummy was inducted into the Gallaudet University Hall of Fame. The same week, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees and the Gallaudet University Alumni Association Board of Directors jointly presented him with the Sesquicentennial Distinguished Alumni Award.

Even as Bummy’s health declined, he maintained his interest in the University, attending alumni gatherings and Academic Bowl competitions, welcoming visitors to his apartment at Renaissance Village Rancho Belago in Moreno Valley, California; and talking via videophone almost daily with friends young and old.

Bummy’s spirit lives on in many of us, and he would expect that we continue his legacy by preserving the values of active citizenship, supporting our deaf ecosystem, and investing in our youth, and building leaders for the future.
Since Bummy’s passing last Friday, we have received many heartfelt tributes and stories, and many more have been posted on social media. I am pleased to share several of them.

Dr. Donalda K. Ammons, ’74, president of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association, said, “Bummy was an extraordinary and unique individual with deep passion and love for Gallaudet and GUAA. He was well known for his quick wit and sense of humor. He was also chivalrous and honorable-a true gentleman! We have truly lost an icon.”

Two-term GUAA president Alyce Slater Reynolds, ’76 G-’78, served on the GUAA Board for 23 years, with more than 13 of those years alongside Bummy. She says, “There was no one quite like Bummy, and there may never be anyone else like him. He gave back to Gallaudet many times over. I was so in awe of his commitment to giving that my husband and I have followed suit. This may be one of his many legacies-inspiring fellow alumni to support the Gallaudetians of tomorrow.”

Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, my immediate predecessor as president, wrote: “Bummy was an icon in the Deaf community. He was a man of valor, integrity, and grit; a proud alumnus of Gallaudet University, and a true leader. I will always remember him for his humor and his generosity to the university as a major benefactor. Vicki and I will always cherish the times we interacted with him at national conferences, workshops, and GUAA Board meetings. May he rest in peace.”

Gallaudet’s ninth president, Dr. Robert R. Davila, ’53 H-’96, wrote: “Teacher, parliamentarian, generous benefactor, compassionate crusader, beloved friend, and highly respected human being, Bummy was all this and much more throughout a long and distinguished life centered around devoted service to the Deaf community that he loved enormously and that loved him in return.”

Bummy’s wife, Theresa Connors Burstein, ’52, died in 1973. He is survived by a brother and sister-in-law, Dr. Stephen D. and Ronnie Sue Burstein of Roslyn, New York; a niece, Alissa Shaber and her husband, Dr. Justin Shaber; one grand-niece, and one grand-nephew, all of Melville, New York.

In accordance with Jewish tradition, a private graveside service will be held on Wednesday, September 5 at Olivewood Cemetery in Riverside, California. Celebrations of his life will be held this fall in Riverside and here at Gallaudet University.

Our Office of Alumni Relations has created a webpage in Bummy’s memory, which will contain a comprehensive biography, photographs, and tributes. Donations in Bummy’s memory may be made to any of the following funds:
Burstein Center for Excellence in Leadership and Innovation Fund (BCELI)
Gerald “Bummy” Burstein, ’50, GUAA Fund
Gerald “Bummy” Burstein Endowment Fund
The Community Foundation
3700 Sixth Street, Suite 200
Riverside, CA 92501

This is a time of grief for the Gallaudet community. We have lost one of our finest alumni, we have lost a dear friend, and our world has lost a wonderful human being. He leaves us many rich memories to fill our aching hearts: his intelligence, his sense of purpose, his approachability, his ability to connect with people from all walks of life, his quick wit, and his disarming humor, to name just a few.

Please join me in remembering Bummy, and in ensuring that his legacy remains with us always.
Roberta J. Cordano

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