August 31, 2018

Robert L. Burns, 86, a former general manager of the Carroll Daily Times Herald and a longtime university professor and development director, died Sunday morning, Aug. 26, 2018, at the Good Samaritan Society home in Indianola, Iowa.

Burns had been in hospice care in recent weeks following post-stroke medical complications, including dementia. Burns also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, in Emporia, Kansas, at Maplewood Lawn Memorial Cemetery.

Burns helped helm the Daily Times Herald through the farm crisis of the early 1980s, managing operations and writing a popular general-interest column, Potpourri, which focused heavily on the local arts scene in Carroll, for which he was a passionate advocate, as well as observations and anecdotes about family and life, in which he drew on his experiences in hard-scrabble rural Kansas during the Great Depression, higher education in New York City and extensive travel. One notable column centered on time Burns spent talking with President Jimmy Carter at the White House.

Robert Lloyd Burns was born Oct. 4, 1931, in Emporia, Kansas, a son of Victor and Edna Burns, a railroad worker and hospital bookkeeper.

As a child, Burns quickly developed an interest in music, and learned piano at an early age. In his high school years, Burns earned money playing the piano in dance halls and other venues in Kansas — often accompanying much older and experienced professional singers and musicians. He also worked as a soda jerk in the former Emporia Drug Store.

Burns graduated from Emporia High School in 1949 and started studies in music at Emporia State University. The Korean War interrupted his education as Burns served in the U.S. Army during that war for nearly two years, all of it at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. Burns, with the dexterity of a concert-level pianist, scored highly on a military typing skills test and earned his way to the rank of sergeant. Burns was always extraordinarily humble with mention of his military service as he had friends from Kansas who died in combat — paying what Burns called the “true price of democracy.” Of his service, Burns, who was drafted, would say, “President Truman sent me a letter telling me what my country needed, and like thousands of others, I did what he asked.”

Burns finished his studies at Emporia State University in music and taught high school in Great Bend, Kansas, for a year — and he played the organ for a Lutheran Church on Sundays — before moving to New York City and entering a graduate program in church organ music at Union Theological Seminary. He would regularly play for Sunday services at a variety of Protestant churches in New York City and on Long Island, New York.

After graduation from Union Seminary, Burns was hired as minister of music for First United Methodist Church in downtown Des Moines. It is there where he met and married Ann Wilson of Carroll on June 26, 1965. The couple divorced in 1984.

The couple adopted three children as babies, two sons from Cedar Rapids, and a daughter from Vietnam following the fall of Saigon: Douglas Burns of Carroll, Tom Burns of Carroll and Jane (Burns) Lawson of West Des Moines — all currently co-owners of the Carroll Daily Times Herald.

Burns served as a professor at Simpson College in Indianola following his time at First United Methodist, and studied in Europe under the tutelage the renowned French organist Marie-Claire Alain, before moving to Carroll in 1979 where he became general manager of the Daily Times Herald until leaving in 1984.

He served as a development official for Grand View University in Des Moines for five years before being recruited as a vice president for development at West Virginia University in Morgantown, where he lived for more than a decade before his retirement in Overland Park, Kansas.

Burns is survived by his three children, Douglas Burns of Carroll; Tom Burns and his wife, Jennifer, of Carroll; and Jane Lawson and her husband, Danny, of West Des Moines; four nieces, Marilyn Thompson of Phoenix, Arizona; Cindy McCoy of St. Charles, Missouri; Julie Holliday of Olathe, Kansas; and Karen Bishop of Kansas City, Missouri; and four grandchildren, Kellan and Carsten Lawson and Gus and Lola Burns.

He was preceded in death by his parents; and four siblings, Victor Burns of Salt Lake City, Utah, Donald Burns of Emporia, Kansas, Marilyn Pierce of Overland Park, Kansas, and Marian Thompson of St. Joseph, Missouri.

Donations in Burns’ honor may be sent to the Carroll Library Foundation, 118 E. Fifth St., Carroll, Iowa 51401.

Arrangements are being handled by the Overton Funeral Home in Indianola.