Burkett was a teacher who pulled the best from students
David Burkett was a longtime teacher — at Trinity University and San Antonio College, where he taught communications; with the Air Force, where he taught management classes; and at Christ Lutheran Church, where he taught the lectors to speak with poise and presence.
In his introductory journalism classes, he imparted more than just basic reporting skills. He taught students to see their own potential, to exceed their expectations and to be curious.
“He was transformative for me,” said Brad Winters, who met Burkett as a freshman at Trinity in 1974 and later joined the fraternity that Burkett advised. “In my mind, he was the perfect teacher.”
Burkett, a Pennsylvania native who made San Antonio his home, died Nov. 4 after battling health issues for several years. He was 84.
After graduating from Northwestern University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism, he came here with the Air Force, said his wife, Lynnell Burkett. He remained in the Air Force Reserve after active duty, ultimately retiring with 30 years of military service.
Throughout his career, “he just loved teaching,” his wife said.
“He never pushed, he always pulled,” said Winters, describing Burkett’s style of constantly asking questions, prompting students to find the answers rather than feeding them information. “He was able to get the best from everybody and able to help you see that it wasn’t even close to your best.”
After leaving Trinity in the 1980s, he led training sessions for the Air Force, focused on helping managers communicate more effectively.
“He would be lecturing eight hours a day, all week long, and he’d lose his voice at the end of the week,” Lynnell Burkett recalled. When doctors told him he was going to wreck his voice, he quit, she said, but he kept teaching part time for as long as he could.
He taught until he was 76, she said.
At SAC, he asked his advertising students to create a campaign as their final exam for the class, and he “inspired his ragtag teams to brilliant creativity,” said Jan Norris, a longtime friend who helped judge the classes’ competitions. “How he turned these sundry students into creative geniuses amazed me and often surprised David. He was a gifted teacher and motivator.”
Off the job, Burkett found ways to guide and mentor young people as well, training lectors at church to “be a presence,” Pastor Steve Rode said.
When Rode asked him to lead youth retreats, Burkett objected, because “retreats” meant going backwards, Rode recalled. Instead, he took the youngsters on what he called “advances.”
David and Lynnell Burkett traveled to Hawaii every year, visiting Lanai, the smallest inhabited island, and exploring other parts of the state. They also made an annual fall trip to Vermont, making friends in both places.
Once known for his “elegant suits and sport coats, bright silk ties and fine Italian leather shoes,” he later swapped those for an island-inspired look: “shorts, sandals and an enviable collection of Hawaiian shirts,” Norris said.
The couple loved beagles and had “a whole series of them” over the years, along with cats who “just showed up at the door and moved in,” Lynnell Burkett said.
David Burkett was an avid runner, an inveterate listener and a constant learner, friends said. Rode called him “a snappy dresser,” and a “devoted church man.” He was “a true friend, a lusty eater, lavish tipper, a robust lover of life,” Norris said.
“He could go from one of the guys to your conscience in a second,” said Winters, who recalled Burkett’s sense of humor along with his high expectations for his students. “It wouldn’t occur to you to give him anything other than your best effort.”
“If you’re lucky, I guess, you have that teacher in your life somewhere who really makes a difference,” he said. “He was the teacher who helped young men and women in college see their own potential.”
Lteitz@express-news.net | @LizTeitz