Burl Waits, a high school dropout who became a decorated Marine, lawyer and civic activist, died Aug. 21 with Alzheimer’s disease and other health complications, his family said. He was 83.
The son of Dust Bowl farmers in the Great Depression, Mr. Waits pulled himself up by the bootstraps to serve his country in war and support nonprofit groups and programs in Sacramento as a lawyer and businessman. He went to law school – without attending college – after working as a union leader at Procter & Gamble.
“He always wanted to lend a hand to the underdog – people who didn’t have the ability, or didn’t think they had the ability, to help themselves,” said his son Tim.
Born in 1930 in Oklahoma, Burl Wesley Waits was 5 when his mother died. His father packed up the family, drove west to California in search of work and settled in Greenville in Plumas County in 1941. Burl Waits left high school, joined the Marines and was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds he received in the Korean War, his son said.
Mr. Waits went to night school to earn a general equivalency diploma while working full time at Procter & Gamble in Sacramento. He served as president of the local Independent Soap Workers Union and organized at plants in the United States as national secretary-treasurer of the Independent Council of Procter & Gamble Unions.
After two years of studying at home to pass the admissions test, he enrolled at McGeorge School of Law and was admitted to the California State Bar in 1966. He practiced law for more than 30 years in Sacramento and later owned and managed a videoconferencing business.
An outgoing man who enjoyed community involvement, Mr. Waits was instrumental in starting or supporting nonprofit groups and programs, including the Foundation to Promote Positive Learning Processes, the South Sacramento-Greenhaven Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Family House and the local chapter of the National Speakers Association.
He served as chairman of the Sacramento Drug Abuse Coordinating Council and set up a legal clinic at the Aquarian Effort, a former drug-treatment center. He co-founded the California Vehicle Foundation and the California Automobile Museum.
“He had a real desire to be the world’s greatest networker,” his son said. “He really liked people and getting them together and getting them into a project that could help the community.”
Mr. Waits had four children with Joan Scruggs Waits, who died after 49 years of marriage in 2001. In addition to his son Tim, he is survived by his wife of 12 years, Diane Lowe; another son, James; two daughters, Linda Hibbard and Karen Morcomb; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A visitation is set for 11 a.m. Monday, followed by a funeral at noon Monday, at George L. Klumpp Chapel of Flowers, 2691 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento. A graveside service is set for noon Tuesday at Greenville District Cemetery, 133 Hideaway Road, Greenville.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Cancer Society or the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California.