Published: Aug 18, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Aug 17, 2012 01:20 PM
CARRBORO - James Paul Burnette, a well-known Carrboro resident who worked for years as a McDougle and Carrboro Elementary crossing guard, died Tuesday at UNC Hospitals.
On Monday, he would have celebrated his 75th birthday.
James Burnette retired in 1994 as a 25-year operating room technician at Durham Regional Hospital. That year, he began a second career as a crossing guard.
When his wife Alvater Burnette retired in 1996 from her nursing job at UNC Hospitals, he asked her to join him, she said.
“The children just loved him so,” she said, pulling a handmade card from a stack of family photos. Signed by Josie and Patti, the card had Burnette’s photo on the front – one hand holding a stop sign, the other waving at the camera. It read: “Mr. James – The World’s Greatest Crossing Guard. Coolest too!”
He took pride in that card, she said.
Burnette had a wonderful sense of humor, Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said. He also was honest and forthright, even when the truth was difficult.
“When he meant business, you certainly knew it,” Hutchison said. “As a police chief, I listened very carefully to Mr. Burnette, because I recognized him as a very wise person.”
Chapel Hill resident Marianne Jones, who got to know the couple through her children’s schools, said Burnette could always make her day better. He high-fived every child and parent, and knew all their names, she said. Students would run over and give him a big hug, she said.
“I think he made a huge impact on a lot of people and families in our town,” Jones said.
Dozens of relatives and longtime friends gathered at the family’s Hill Street home Thursday. Alvater Burnette, 76, said they had hard times and good times.
Her husband James Burnette had a heart bypass in 1988 but otherwise enjoyed good health, she said. Ashley, his 16-year-old granddaughter, said he found it harder to breathe in the last year and stayed in his car most of the time, while his wife manned the crossing. They retired this spring, and McDougle Elementary Principal Amanda Hartness said a party honoring them was planned for the fall.
Alvater Burnette grew up with 10 siblings on a farm near Siler City. James Burnette was one of seven children from Pittsboro. He told her he first spied her at church, she said.
“He knew I was a hard cookie to crumble. I just thought he was a macho man,” she said. “He was all that a woman was looking for back in them days.”
They married April 2, 1961, living on Gomains Avenue and Craig Street in Northside before moving to Carrboro in 1966. They raised two sons, Alvin Gaylord Burnette, 42, and James Purvis Burnette, 46.
Burnette liked television and wrestling, Alvater Burnette said. The couple also loved to fish, usually at Jordan Lake.
Alvin Burnette said he remembers best the summers fishing and swimming at Atlantic Beach.
His sons and his grandchildren – Ashley, 6-year-old Destiny, and 18-year-old Jesuana – were his joy, Alvater Burnette said.
A funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. today (Sunday) at Second Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. Visitation will be 30 minutes before the service.
Burnette will be buried in Westwood Cemetery in Carrboro.