Dorothy “Dot” Burns always made people laugh. Even so, no one ever left a conversation with her without knowing what she needed them to do — whether helping in a Republican campaign or in starting a new school.
Burns used her personality, organizational skills, energy, and an occasional superior poker hand to blaze trails and contribute to the rise of the Republican Party in Georgia and nationally. An early Hall County Republican Party chair, she later led the ninth Congressional District GOP, and she served as First Vice Chair of the state GOP.
Burns was a state Republican National Committeewoman from 1992 to 1996, served on the Executive Committee for the Georgia Republican Party, was a six-time delegate at the Republican National Convention and was elected multiple times as a presidential elector. She was involved in over 100 local, state and federal elections — playing leadership roles in the campaigns of presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Georgia W. Bush, as well as those of state and national candidates Mack Mattingly, Johnny Isakson, Phil Gramm, Bob Dole, Herman Cain, Sonny Perdue and Sen. Paul Coverdell, who entrusted Burns to lead his statewide political committee throughout his tenure.
Burns died Feb. 10 at age 84 on St. Simons Island after a period of declining health and a series of issues including a heart condition and pneumonia.
Former Republican Senator Johnny Isakson remembers her as a woman with “unbridled energy” and as Coverdell’s closest confidant.
“If you had a last-minute decision to make, you’d call her. Dot never saw a challenge she couldn’t meet. You were very happy to have her support — just a great lady,” he said.
Upon her impending retirement from politics in 1979, her friends got her noted in the 1979 Georgia Congressional Senate Record as “the calm in the midst of many a legislative storm, a steady rock amid the changing tides of political fortune.”
Dorothy Mae Burns was born July 7, 1935, in Columbus, Ohio, to Franklin and Opal McCormick. She was a self-proclaimed “daddy’s girl,” and her retired Army lieutenant colonel father instilled in her a strong sense of service.
After attending St. Genevieve of the Pines Catholic School in Asheville, N.C., Burns went to Florida State University.
There, she dated a lot, but “studied not so much,” family members said.
Her father brought her home after a year and sent her to the Marymount School of Medical Records in Ohio. Following graduation, she moved to Charleston, S.C. where she became a medical records librarian at Old Roper Hospital. It was there she met her future husband, Dr. James Roy Burns, who would ultimately bring her to Georgia.
Early on, Burns’ organizational skills were evident. She became office manager for her husband’s medical practice when she learned he was accepting eggs and chickens from north Georgia patients instead of money.
While raising four children, Burns became involved in their Gainesville community as an active member of Grace Episcopal Church and a member of the Gainesville Junior League. There, she became interested in helping the speech and hearing-impaired, and learned to read braille so she could teach it to others.
Outside of politics, education was a passion. She was a founder and board member of Lakeview Academy in Gainesville. Her eldest son Frank remembers, “Mom was all about getting a good education so we could succeed in life.” Her mantra, to go out and “hang your own shingle” inspired her children to find independent career paths. One became a physician, one an attorney, another a CPA and one an interior designer.
In her spare time, Burns was a bridge player, which eventually led to some skill as a poker player. “She was a great poker player with the men,” her son-in-law Eric Tanenblatt recalled, a skill that, combined with her ability to make them laugh, undoubtedly helped her accomplish her political and professional goals.
Burns knew what she wanted in every situation and wasn’t afraid to let you know. “She was very kind, but tough,” Tanenblatt said.
Burns introduced Tanenblatt to her daughter, Mary.
“At our wedding I was able to say I had been pre-approved for marriage,” he said.
She is survived by her husband of 61 years, James Roy Burns Jr. MD of St. Simons Island; sons Frank Burns of Atlanta, Mark Burns of Gainesville; daughters Patricia “Trish” Burns of St. Simons Island, Mary Burns (MD) Tanenblatt; and nine grandchildren. A funeral service was held Feb. 16 at Christ Church Frederica in St. Simons. The family has requested donations to Hospice of the Golden Isles or Christ Church in lieu of flowers.
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