Remembering Lee Burgess

27 Nov

I was surprised by some sad news the other day. I read in the Webster Herald that Lee Burgess has passed away.

Lee attended college at Miami University, where he was immediately drawn to the media, spending time as a sports announcer and writer. After graduation he spent his early career in advertising, but eventually found his true passion: teaching. For 30 years he taught multimedia and journalism at R.L. Thomas High School.

But many Webster residents know Lee Burgess best through his work with the Webster Herald, which he started writing for in 1969.

I didn’t know Lee very well. However, I did meet him for coffee at the Atlantic Restaurant one morning years ago. We chatted about the projects he was working on, the class he was teaching at the Webster Recreation Center, and journalism in general. Many times in the following years I told myself I’d try to reconnect with him and continue that conversation. But I never got around to doing that. So on the occasion of his passing, I decided to get to know Lee Burgess a little better. I realized a good way to do that was to examine his long career with the Herald, using the terrific NY Historic Newspapers database as my guide.

Lee’s name started appearing in the Webster Herald back in 1967, even before he began writing for the paper. At the time, he was yearbook advisor for the R.L. Thomas Reveille, and his name would pop up regularly in the “Thomas Tales” column written by Marsha Kuhn and Cheryl Koopmans. In September 1968 he was introduced as the school’s new journalism teacher and advisor to the Courier, the school’s brand new newspaper.

Lee’s first bylined article seems to be one published on May 21, 1969 about the Monroe County Harvest Queen Contest (pictured below). That summer he also started to help out behind the scenes at the Herald. In his regular “Ridge Runner” column, Webster Herald editor Curt Gerling called Lee “our summer ‘swing man,’ a fellow who fills in on the editorial side for vacationing members of the regular staff.” Gerling also talked Lee into covering school board meetings.

For the next several years, Lee would occasionally write about other topics as well, including politics, new businesses, even auto accidents. But when he added sports stories to his beat, he really found his niche.

In September 1976, Lee Burgess became a regular Webster Herald columnist. His “Sports Shorts” column was a pithy, informational, opinionated look at local and national sports. But it was when he took over the weekly “Ridge Runner” column from Gerling on Feb. 1, 1989, that Lee Burgess really hit his stride. He would write that column for the next six years.

In his first column (pictured below), Lee wrote,

And what’ll the column be? A lot of opinion, the kind of argument that folks loading up on groceries at Nesbitt’s or Seitz’s in Webster or at Linken Ridge in Ontario Center can chew about. A few thought provokers that’ll make “tippling talk” at The Old Ridge Inn or Sodus Hotel. Humor to pass along while you’re waiting for ice cream at Friendly’s in Webster or Russet’s in Ontario. And some names now and then, perhaps neighbors along Eddy Ridge Road or Klem Road or kids from schools in Webster or Wayne or Williamson or Sodus.

Little bits and pieces that put the “home” and “town” into where you live.

“Ridge Runner” may very well be what Lee Burgess is best remembered for, and for good reason. He wrote the kind of small-town-weekly-newspaper column that celebrates the ordinary people, places and events that often go unnoticed but make up the fabric of a small town. Through his words, Lee Burgess brought our community together.

As his family wrote in his obituary, Lee Burgess was a “larger than life figure in Webster.” He will be missed.

* * *

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(posted 11/27/2022)

4 Responses to “Remembering Lee Burgess”

  1. readmybook2002 November 28, 2022 at 6:09 am #

    As an adult, I took creative writing courses by Lee on Wednesday evenings through the WSD. A small class of six people gave him typed pages where a no-holds-bar critique was given through the slashes of his red pen. We all learned more than we ever thought. He helped us put on a thick skin to counteract the rejections and I still have those red-lined pages. In his obit, I found out he knew Kurt Vonnegut from wartime.

    • websterontheweb November 28, 2022 at 8:41 am #

      I imagine yours was the group he was telling me about at our coffee date. It seems as though he did indeed help you on your path to authorhood! Thank you for your comment!

  2. DPD November 29, 2022 at 9:33 am #

    A nicely written tribute, Missy. I think Mr. Burgess would approve. [P] Wished I’d met him. as he sounds like a character with a kind and gentle heart and a keen observer, as many writers are. I’ve no doubt that Mr. Burgess could simultaneously ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’ with his words. Funny thing that you never know who you’ll meet and what ‘disguise’ they might be wearing. Princes, paupers, kings, war heroes, captains of industry, or the guy who cleans up after the Red Wings game all look the same when wearing jeans and a tee-shirt; you just don’t know until you talk to them and learn their stories. Mr. Burgess appeared to be quite the ‘regular Joe’ and, unless you knew his skill and talent for storytelling, he might go unnoticed. And the stories he told for years would also have gone unknown if not for his skill and dedication. A compilation of his columns would be an enjoyable read, and perhaps a worthwhile project. [P] Don’t mean to embarrass you here on your own blog, but it is not lost upon this reader that you and Mr. Burgess share a common mission: “home” + “town” stories, indeed.

    • websterontheweb November 29, 2022 at 10:56 am #

      You make some very insightful points, and I have to say that I recognize you, your writing talents and “regular joe”-ness in those comments as well. It does warm my heart to think that I am continuing that legacy, following in the footsteps of Lee Burgess AND Carol Klem.

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