During three decades as an administrator with the Los Rios Community College District, Douglas Burris earned a reputation as a leader who always put the interests of students first, say colleagues.
“He was the guy who set the tone for the academic program,” said Sandra Kirschenmann, former vice chancellor of the Los Rios district. “We all looked to Doug to make sure what we were doing was the right thing.”
Burris, who had the distinction of serving as president of American River, Cosumnes River and Sacramento City colleges during his tenure, died March 6 of Lewy body dementia, said his son Robert Burris. He was 84.
Douglas Wayne Burris was born June 1, 1931, in Visalia to George and Lois Burris. His family had deep roots in California. His great grandfather, David Burris, was a Mexican War hero who arrived in California in 1851 from Missouri, and became a miner, rancher and banker in Sonoma and Central California, according to family members.
Douglas Burris was a musician and athlete at Visalia High School, who often told his family about running against Bob Mathias from Tulare High in a track meet. Mathias went on to become a two-time Olympic gold medalist and U.S. congressman. Burris never told who won the race.
After earning a degree in business administration at UC Berkeley, Burris joined the U.S. Marine Corps and rose to the rank of captain. It was during his military service that he met his future wife, Jacquelin “Jackie” Dyment of Los Angeles. They were married for 59 years.
After leaving the Marines, Burris went to work as a salesman for American Seating Co., selling desks and chairs to schools in the Sacramento area. His father was a music teacher, and Burris soon discovered that his true passion was education as well.
“It was his nature to want to be involved in something that would truly make a difference in people’s lives,” Robert Burris said. He believed that if he succeeded as an educator, he would make it possible for students to succeed.
Douglas Burris began his career with the Los Rios Community College District in September 1959, teaching in the business division at American River College. He earned a master’s degree in public administration from Sacramento State, and became the dean of instruction at ARC in 1965. He served as acting president of the college from January 1970 until September 1971, when he moved to Cosumnes River College as acting president. He served as president of CRC from 1972 to 1979, then as president of Sacramento City College from 1979 to 1984. He became vice chancellor at the district office in November 1984, and in 1988, he assumed the post of deputy chancellor at the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.
Following his retirement in 1991, Burris served on the Board of Regents as assistant to the chancellor for community colleges at the university and community college system of Nevada, now the Nevada System of Higher Education.
He was the guy who set the tone for the academic program. We all looked to Doug to make sure what we were doing was the right thing.
Sandra Kirschenmann, former vice chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District
Douglas Burris was involved in overseeing the transition from junior colleges to community colleges, said his son. Junior colleges focused on preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges, but Burris believed they should also provide specialized training programs that would prepare students for the workforce. To do that, it was important to know what was happening in the community.
He became active in an organization that linked local businesses with the colleges. “He was also one of the first administrators to hire economic development professionals to make that connection with business and to guide curriculum and training,” Robert Burris said.
He understood the importance of matching the educational program to the needs of the region, Kirschenmann said.
Brice Harris, California Community Colleges chancellor and former chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, described Burris as an “extremely student-centered academic leader.” Whenever the two men discussed programs or policies, Burris’ first question was, “What impact would this have on students?” Harris said.
Whether it was a controversial issue involving administrators, faculty or the community, “Doug was right where the students were,” Harris said.
He described Burris as a man of calm demeanor and deep integrity. “We looked upon him as a fireman,” Harris said. “If there was a problem, we would send Doug in to deal with it.”
Despite a demanding career, Douglas Burris considered his family of utmost importance, his son said. There was nothing his father enjoyed more than time spent with his family at vacation homes in the mountains or on the coast, or barbecuing in his backyard in Roseville.
“A lot of people are driven by a lot of different things,” Robert Burris said, “but he was really driven by his caring for people.”
In addition to his wife, Jackie, of Roseville, and son Robert of Sacramento, Douglas Burris is survived by sons Rod Burris and Brad Burris, both of Granite Bay, daughter Lyn Gillem of Sloughhouse and eight grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at East Lawn Mortuary, 5757 Greenback Lane in Foothill Farms. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Douglas Burris’ name to the Lewy Body Dementia Association, 912 Killian Road SW, Lilburn, Ga., 30047, or via the association’s website, https://www.lbda.org/node/581.