Jane Frances Russell Burris
Published 3:55 pm Wednesday, April 3, 2019
September 16, 1929 – March 26, 2019
RALEIGH — Jane Frances Russell Burris was born on Sept. 16, 1929 in Mt. Gilead and died March 26, 2019 in Raleigh.
She was the eighth of eight children born to the late David Alexander Russell and the late Rose Hinson Russell.
She was a kind, devoted and supportive wife and mother, with a brilliant, sometimes rascally, sense of humor.
As a lifelong educator, Jane committed her professional life to the public schools of North Carolina.
Jane grew up during the Great Depression in Mt. Gilead as the baby girl in a large family.
Her beloved older sisters, Mae Rose and Bertha, and brothers, Jack, Lentz, Leroy, Bob and Coy, all shared in the raising of their kid sister.
It was a bustling house in the foothills of the Uwharrie Mountains, full of music and humor.
Her father, David, and brother, Lentz, were accomplished musicians and inspired Jane to learn the piano, which she played beautifully her whole life.
Her mother, Rose, was a healer, herbalist and “root doctor” committed to helping her neighbors in the community of Mt. Gilead and the surrounding areas of rural Montgomery County.
As an adult, Jane applied much of what she learned from her mother in the dedicated care of her own family and friends.
At the age of 17 she was admitted to nearby Wingate College where she met her husband-to-be and best friend, Craven Allen Burris. They became fast friends on the first day of class and remained so for the next 70 years.
Jane went on to take her degree in Education and Library Science from Appalachian State Teachers College in Boone.
After graduating she traveled up the East Coast, visiting New York, New England and making what would be the first of many trips to foreign countries with a journey to Montreal. The travel bug had bitten this small town girl from Montgomery County.
She returned to N.C. and began her first teaching job in Charlotte, which would prove to be the beginning of a long and committed career in the N.C. public school system.
As a librarian and an English teacher Jane was on a mission: she wanted children to read. She knew from her own experience that reading opened minds and opened doors.
Jane reunited with Allen upon his return from a tour of duty overseas in the U.S. Navy. They were married in Mt. Gilead in 1955.
The next year of their life would see them live in Charleston, as Allen finished his Naval service, and then Louisville, Ky., where he studied at the Southeastern Baptist Seminary. Their first child and only daughter Christa Cullom (CeCe) was born a year later.
Jane kept herself busy the next years raising CeCe and supporting Allen as he was finishing his M.A. and Ph.D. at Duke University and the University of London.
The young family’s year in London was particularly enlightening and transformative for Jane. Her charm, intelligence and generous spirit quickly served to build friendships in their West London neighborhood of Ealing and in the academic communities of the University of London and the British Museum in Bloomsbury.
These friendships would last a lifetime as the family returned to the United Kingdom for both work and pleasure many times in the decades that followed.
Only months after returning to Duke, Jane and Allen had a son, David Allen. With two kids now in tow, they resolved to remain in their home state of North Carolina to pursue their respective education careers.
For the first few years of their professional journey they lived as academic nomads, with Allen holding posts at Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs and St. Andrews in Laurinburg.
In 1969 they moved to Raleigh where Jane began a long tenure at Cary Senior High School as head librarian while Allen served as academic dean and vice president at Meredith College. They would remain citizens of Raleigh for the rest of their lives.
Between work and family, somehow, Jane managed to find time to embrace her role at Meredith as the “Dean’s wife” with great enthusiasm and joy.
Over the years she contributed countless hours and immeasurable energy to helping Meredith become a towering institution for women’s education in the South.
These efforts will continue to bear fruit, as she was instrumental in setting up the C. Allen Burris Sabbatical Fund in honor of her husband’s great work at the college.
Jane was brought up in the traditions of the Baptist Church and found a spiritual and communal home for her family at downtown Raleigh’s First Baptist Church.
Jane was a faithful congregant, serving on numerous committees and as a dedicated member of the Brewer-Johnson Sunday School Class.
She was deeply involved in helping to usher the church into a new era. Jane supported such progressive moves as allowing women to become deacons and extending membership to all. With open arms, she received new members of all races, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual orientation.
Jane’s greatest joy was her family. For all of her days, husband Allen, son David, daughter Cece, son-in-law Joe and grandchildren Hannah and Gordon felt the love, devotion and support of Jane’s strength, good humor, intelligence and kindness.
Like a mama bear, she put her family first and woe be to anyone who might get in her way. She was fierce and gentle in equal measure, often employing an unflagging, puckish wit in her role as family matriarch.
Jane was predeceased by her husband Allen; her parents, David and Rose Russell; her brothers Jack, Lentz, Robert, Coy and Leroy Russell; and her sisters, Mae Rose Russell Ballard and Bertha Russell DeBerry.
She is survived by her son, David; daughter, Cece Middleton and son-in-law, Joseph Middleton; adored grandchildren Hannah Middleton and Gordon Middleton; and by many beloved nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank the members of First Baptist Church, as well as the faculty, staff and students of Meredith College for their enduring support and compassion.
Many thanks to Cynthia, Gwen and all the staff of Springmoor Life Care Retirement, as well as Cathy White and Sonja Bass of Home Instead. Their cheerful and professional care went above and beyond, giving Jane new friendships in her last years.
A memorial service will be held at First Baptist Church, 99 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 11. Visitation will follow in the church fellowship hall.
In lieu of flowers, the family request memorial gifts to the Craven Allen and Jane Burris Scholarship Fund of Meredith College or The Mike Morris Fellowship Fund of First Baptist Church of Raleigh.
Arrangements are under the care of Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, 300 Saint Mary’s St., Raleigh, NC 27605.