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Obituary of Van Burd


Melvin Van Akin Burd, 101 of Cortland died peacefully on November 7, 2015 at his home after a happy and productive life.

He was born April 19, 1914 in Miami, Florida, son of Melvin Sorrel and Elizabeth Van Akin Burd. He moved to Cortland in 1951 and was predeceased by his beloved wife of 57 years, Julia Ella Robinson Burd in 2000.

Dr. Burd, Professor Emeritus, was a member of the Department of English at the SUNY Cortland from 1951 until retirement in 1979. He was the first named Distinguished Professor at Cortland. From 1962-64, he was the director of the new Division of Arts and Sciences and served as chair of the English department for six years. His teaching interests were nineteenth-century British and American literature, as well freshman composition, a favorite with him. He and Julia were active in the college life in many student functions, even as an honorary member of Delta Kappa fraternity.

Van’s life was punctuated with Naval service. He was part of the invasion forces of the island of Okinawa, south of Japan, playing a significant role in organizing village schools and government. Lieutenant Commander Burd retired after twenty years from a Naval Reserve unit in Cortland formed by him and others.

He graduated from the University of Chicago, received a master’s degree from Stanford and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. His passion for research related to the nineteenth century writer John Ruskin led to five books: Winnington Letters (Harvard, 1969), The Ruskin Family Letters, two volumes (Cornell, 1973); John Ruskin and Rose La Touche (Oxford, 1979). Christmas Story: John Ruskin’s Venetian Letters 1876-7 (Delaware, 1990). Continuing into his late nineties, he rounded out his scholarship with essays on Ruskin and lectures in England during notable Ruskin commemorations. His contributions have earned him international respect. Studies in Ruskin: Essays in Honor of Van Akin Burd, a festschrift, was published in recognition of his retirement. His wife Julia was a helpful and enthusiastic companion on many trips to Europe for research. He leaves kind thoughts and thanks to all friends in England and at home for their help in these accomplishments.

Van felt his many Cortland friends and his beloved family led to his longevity. He is survived by daughter Joyce and her husband Garland Hicks of Indiana, granddaughter Tamara (Hicks) and her husband Britt Cain, and four great grandchildren, Thomas, Brenna, Julia, and Timothy Cain; his sister Betty (Burd) Sitts of Michigan and her children Susan, Dee Ann, Peter, and Timothy Sitts and his wife Marilyn, and grand and great-grand nephews and nieces; first cousin Robert Gibbs of Michigan and his family were great favorites. Van was predeceased by his sister Margaret.

Friends may call at the United Presbyterian Church at 25 Church Street, Cortland, from 10 am to noon on Tuesday, November 10. A service will follow at noon with the Reverend Johnson officiating. Burial will be at the family gravesite in Vernon, Michigan.

Memorial contributions may be designated for the Van Akin Burd memorial scholarship in English, via checks in care of the Cortland College Foundation, P.O. Box 2000, Cortland, NY 13045.

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