Remembering J.P. Burns

Published 7:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2019

Briana Russell Pickett remembers her grandfather always kissed her grandmother when he walked through the door at the end of a hard day.

“I will always remember him whistling when he came home from work—always a hymn. I’ll always remember the peppermints in his pockets that he always gave out to me and my baby,” Pickett said.

J.P. Burns, who passed away Tuesday at 84, was a lifelong Picayune resident who served in the Army National Guard for 41 years and worked as Picayune’s city manager from 2001 to 2004. Burns also served on the Housing Authority Board. After he retired, Burns continued his civic engagement, and was named citizen of the year in 2018.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Mr. J.P. was a fine outstanding man,” said Mayor Ed Pinero. “He has been very instrumental in helping direct some of the actions of myself and the Council…He was a great leader, and he will be greatly missed by everyone that’s ever known him.”

Burns could regularly be found in the front row at City Council meetings and regularly attended Picayune School District Board of Trustees and Greater Picayune Area Chamber Of Commerce Board meetings.

“He was very high on responsibility—moral responsibility, Christian responsibility, civic responsibility—and that’s why he didn’t miss a meeting,” Pickett said. “He loved Picayune, and he really thought that you need to be invested in your state, and your city, and your country.”

Director of Operations for the city of Picayune, Harvey Miller, worked with Burns for 16 years, but knew Burns his whole life.

“He was all business when it came to work,” Miller said. “He wanted you to do your job. He’d make sure you had your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted, and he expected you to give 100 percent in your job.”

Burns helped initiate a city wide overlay project during his time as city manager, Miller said. While the project did not come to fruition until after Burns retired, Miller credits Burns for pursuing improvements to the city’s worn streets.

“We had a lot of streets that were old and worn out, and a lot of infrastructure issues, and it finally came through, and he was so grateful for that, and I would give him credit for being part of that,” Miller said.

Like Miller, current city manager Jim Luke is grateful to Burns for hiring him. Burns hired Luke as police chief for the city of Picayune, and long after Burns retired, Luke said he continued to look to Burns as a mentor and role model. Luke sought Burns’ advice even the day before his death, he said.

“I visited him in the hospital on Monday,” Luke said. “I spent over an hour with him seeking his advice while he was in the hospital, because he had been city manager and he was the city manager that hired me.”

Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terry Farr also looked to Burns as a mentor and role model.

“I never, one time, heard him say anything negative about any body, and I was in the Lion’s Club with J.P. for give or take 15 years,” Farr said. “He did not criticize, complain or condemn, and he was, in my opinion, a man of few words, but when he talked you needed to be listening.”

Burns was dedicated to his city and his family, said Farr.

When Burns’ wife Sue had to move into a nursing home due to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he visited her every day. The couple’s 57-year marriage was “old school,” Pickett said. J.P. was the provider and Sue took care of him, Pickett said. Sue would wake up at 3:30 to fix his coffee and lay out his clothes, Pickett said.

“She took care of him in every way that she could,” Pickett said. “That’s who she was. When she went into the (nursing) home, he didn’t even know how to fix his hair.”

So, when Sue entered the nursing home, J.P. committed to taking care of her, Pickett said.

“He said, this doesn’t change our commitment and our vows—this is just how marriage looks for us now. It was his honor to serve her that way in her last years of life,” Pickett said.

After his wife passed away in 2015, Burns visited her grave every day, rain or shine, Pickett said.

Burns was dedicated to his family, his faith and his community, Pickett said.

“I hope that the life that he led will really inspire people to make the most of every day of their life,” Pickett said. “You know, give 100 percent to your marriage, and give 100 percent to the relationships in your life, and give 100 percent to the responsibilities that you have. He always told me, every day in this life is a gift from God, and what are you doing if you’re not living it to the fullest.”