Paulette Gail Burns was a fixture at Texas Christian University’s graduations. As dean, she shook the hand of every graduate from the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
But at graduation on Saturday, the TCU community will instead be reflecting on Mrs. Burns’ legacy. She died Dec. 12 of pancreatic cancer. She was 65.
“I think she will be remembered as a fun, kind leader,” said David Jenkins, chairman of TCU’s social work department. “But she was also tenacious and driven.”
Mrs. Burns studied nursing at TCU in the 1960s and later earned a graduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate from Texas Woman’s University.
She held different positions at several universities before returning to TCU in 2001 to direct the Harris School of Nursing. In 2006, she was appointed the second dean of the new Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences.
Mrs. Burns helped create new academic programs, including a master’s degree in social work. She also supported the development of the Center for Oncology Education and Research and the TCU Center for Evidence-Based Practice and Research: A Collaborating Center of the Joanna Briggs Institute. She also helped start TCU’s accelerated baccalaureate nursing track.
TCU Provost Nowell Donovan said she will be missed at graduation.
“It’s a strange thing that Paulette won’t be there shaking the hands of the students as they walk across,” Donovan said. “She seemed to know every one of them.”
Fall commencement is Saturday morning at the Fort Worth Convention Center arena. A total of 821 students are graduating from TCU and Brite Divinity School; of those, 209 are in the Harris college.
A passion for nursing
Paulette Gail Hamilton was born June 10, 1949, in Beaver, Okla. She graduated from Monterey High School in Lubbock. She received a full four-year scholarship from the Army to study nursing.
Under the terms of the scholarship, she studied nursing for two years at TCU and then transferred to the University of Maryland/Walter Reed. Later she served three years in the military.
While at TCU, she met Chuck Burns, who was a student at Brite Divinity School. He became smitten shortly after meeting her for the first time.
“I decided I really did fancy her,” Chuck Burns said, recalling the second time he saw her in the campus cafeteria. They were married for 45 years.
Nursing was his wife’s passion, Chuck Burns said. She decided she wanted to become a nurse in middle school and committed in high school when she earned her Army scholarship.
“That sealed the deal,” Chuck Burns said. “It was an incredible offer, not made to too many people.
“She was a incredible mom, as well as professional. She was an awesome grandmother and a terrific wife.”
In a letter to the TCU community, Donovan wrote that Mrs. Burns had a sense of balance for all the academic programs under the Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences. He said she looked after the interests of all the programs at her college and didn’t favor one over the other.
In 2006, she advocated for the expansion of programs to better serve the demand for healthcare workers. And under her supervision Harris College’s expansion, the Annie Richardson Bass Building, opened for students this fall semester.
“The splendid new building is basically hers and in my mind, will always be ‘Paulette’s Palace,’” Donovan said.
A memorial service was Wednesday. Her body was donated for medical research.
Other survivors include a daughter, Kelly Burns Campbell; a son, Robert Burns; a sister, Jaxine Casey; a brother, Joel Hamilton; and three grandchildren.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675
To the Burns Family Scholarship in Nursing at TCU, TCU Development, TCU Box 297044, Fort Worth, TX 76129 or the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at www.pancan.org.