Burgess’ legacy remembered

Former Charlotte councilmember Susan Burgess passes away

Susan Burgess, right, with current Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education member Richard McElrath at a 2009 MeckPAC reception. Photo Credit: MeckPAC

CHARLOTTE — LGBT community members are remembering the life and legacy of Susan Burgess, a former Charlotte city councilmember and mayor pro tem who passed away on June 16.

Burgess, 64, had battled terminal cancer after having surgery for colorectal cancer in 2007. This spring, she announced she was halting treatment and going into hospice care. She died nine days after resigning her seat on council and requesting that her son, Jason, be appointed to finish her unexpired term. On June 14, the city council unanimously honored that requested and voted to appoint Jason Burgess.

First elected to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education in 1990, Burgess, a Democrat, served there until 1997. She was chair of the board from 1995-1997. She was first elected to city council in 1999 and unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2001. She returned to the council in 2003, where she served until her resignation on June 7.

She is survived by her husband, four children and six grandchildren.

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Throughout her tenure as a Queen City elected official, Burgess was often a friend to the LGBT community.

Roberta Dunn, a steering committee member for the Mecklenburg Gay and Lesbian Political Action Committee (MeckPAC), said she found a personal friend in Burgess.

In a card to Burgess before her death, Dunn told the councilmember that she “set a high standard for being a friend” and that she hoped that standard “will be a benchmark for the rest of the community to follow.”

A card from MeckPAC contained similar messages of gratitude: “Dear Susan, When we received the emails about the set back to your health, it was a surprise to us all, you have always been a strong contributor and supporter of MeckPAC and we hope to be the same to you. You have always been a great friend of ours; please let us know how we can be of assistance to you.”

Phil Hargett, a former MeckPAC chair, also shared his thoughts on Burgess’ life and service.

“I can’t begin to thank you for all your support over the years to the LGBT community in Charlotte,” Hargett wrote to Burgess. “You stood by us when that was a challenging thing to do politically. It means so much that you have always shown respect and commitment to LGBT citizens’ basic humanity and desire for equality. Wishing you and your family much peace and love.”

Like Dunn, Hargett found a personal relationship with Burgess. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Burgess was a super-delegate to the Democratic National Convention. In that role, she supported Hillary Clinton. When former President Bill Clinton came to Charlotte during campaign season, Hargett said Burgess invited him to come along.

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“She invited me more or less as a representative of the LGBT community,” Hargett said. “She had about 15 spaces to bring people backstage to meet President Clinton and me and my 13-year-old son got to meet him and I introduced myself as chair of the local gay and lesbian political action committee. I’ll always be grateful for that and that sticks out in my mind — what she did for me and to have the LGBT community represented in that way.”

Hargett also said he especially appreciated all of the times Burgess stepped up to welcome and attend LGBT events. That she was willing to take such a stand when Mayor Pat McCrory wasn’t said a lot about her character.

One of the events Burgess routinely welcomed and attended was Pride Charlotte. Past and current members of the Pride Charlotte organizing committee also wrote to Burgess before her passing.

“As members, both past and present, of the Pride Charlotte Committee we would like to express our heartfelt appreciation for your unwavering support of Pride Charlotte and the Charlotte area LGBT community,” the Pride Charlotte letter, written by former co-chair Raine Cole, said. “By speaking at our festival or just writing a letter of welcome, your enthusiastic participation demonstrated to us that we had a very special friend in you.”

The letter continued: “Thank you for supporting our event and our community when others in local government would not. Thank you for caring enough to take time out from your busy schedule to celebrate with us. Most of all thank you for being our friend.”

The letter to Burgess, dated June 7, was signed by Cole, Jeff Schmehl, Michael Curtis, John Quillin, Toryn Stark, Michael Woods, Jonathan Hill, Hugh Hammond, Darryl Hall, Riley Murray, Su Cummings and Frank Stewart. This writer and qnotes publisher Jim Yarbrough, both former members of the Pride Charlotte Task Force, were also signatories.

Owen Sutkowski, who ran for the council’s District 1 seat in 2009 and was one of 24 applicants seeking appointment to Burgess’ seat, said he was “profoundly sad” to hear Burgess had passed. He praised her work for the community.

“I’ve never met someone who is more of an advocate and a vocal leader on behalf of local communities,” he said. “I wish we had more of those in public service, and my hope is she leaves a legacy for our generation to be that kind of advocate.” : :

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer is a staff writer for QNotes. He previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015.