John F. Burt, 97, leaves big legacy behind
John Fulton Burt, 97, known affectionately as Papa John, was remembered Thursday as a loving father and grandfather and a man who left his mark on his community with his good deeds, his kind heart and Godly example.
Mr. Burt worked for Sunbeam Bread Company, D&W Tire Company and Spencer’s Gas Company before in 1967 starting the family-run Burt’s Grocery at the intersection of Range Avenue and Weyerhaeuser Road.
He later moved his business to Holland Avenue. He and his late wife, Shirley, remained in the grocery business for over 25 years.
Nothing attests more to his rich legacy, his family said, than the big yellow school bus unloading the Neshoba Central Rockets baseball team for his memorial service in Holy Cross Catholic Church. It was a testament to their love for their oldest fan and for Coach Kip Fulton, his grandson.
That night the team joined in a moment of silence in his memory before their game at Rocket Field. What’s more, his initials were chalked in the infield.
Mr. Burt died Monday, March 6, in his home surrounded by his two children. A private family burial was in Cedarlawn Cemetery, prior to the memorial. (See obituary, page 5A.)
His daughter, Lee Ann Fulton, said during the service that her father was a devoted fan of Rockets football and baseball.
Mr. Burt watched the playoff games last year from left field.
Fulton recalled one particular night when rain delays caused a game to continue after midnight.
“My dad quickly let us know that he was old enough to stay out as late as he wanted and he wasn’t leaving,” Fulton said. “I delivered him home at 1:10 that morning. He truly loved Rocket baseball.”
Fulton recapped a number of other cherished memories of her father, including the numerous games they played as a family at his home on “Burt Hill.”
Mr. Burt quickly mastered a smart phone and frequently alerted his family about the state of the weather among other news he felt was credible because it was on his phone.
He had a genuine admiration for Queen Elizabeth because they were the same age. Upon her death, he quickly reported that he had outlived the queen.
His family shared a Life 360 app, where he tracked everyone’s whereabouts over what he called “The Dot.”
“I can’t tell you how many calls I got to check on someone’s dot,” Fulton said.
To ensure Mr. Burt’s safety, his family got him a Life Alert, which he reluctantly wore around his neck, always referring to it as his Amber Alert.
Fulton said he unknowingly activated the alert once when he and a nephew were working outside on a lawn mower.
He quickly learned that numerous first responders would come to his aid, despite his skepticism of the device.
That particular incident led to his unexpected disappearance a short time later when he thought he had “mashed that button” again by mistake.
“I went to his house one afternoon after school and he wasn’t there,” Fulton said. “That was a little unusual. He came in and immediately asked me how long I had been there and if anyone else had come. He thought he had accidentally pressed the button. He had solved that problem by getting in his car and leaving until he thought the coast was clear to return home!”
Fulton recalled how her father fell and broke his hip on Aug. 19, noting that in hindsight, it was God allowing her family extra time with him.
“He allowed my brother John and me to prove we fully understood the assignment and expectation of the commandment to honor thy father and mother,” she said. “Over the last six months, we had joyful times and less joyful times.”
She said her father left the world a much better place “because of his unending love.”
Wisdom and fruits of the Spirit
Ashley Burt Peebles said her grandfather possessed the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, patience and self control.
She described Mr. Burt as a hard worker, who especially loved his garden.
“We are the ones who benefited from Papa’s hard work,” she said. “But of everything he planted, the one thing that mattered most was that Jesus was planted into his life. Jesus was the center and we came next.
“Because of that, we know where he is now.”
Coker and Kip Fulton said they learned a lot of valuable lessons from their grandfather while spending time with him on the river and in the woods or garden.
Those lessons came when he shared his wisdom with them.
“Papa taught us to help anyone and everyone because you never know when you may be the person who needs help,” they said. “He taught us to love big and to love everybody and to treat people with respect.”
Finding the ineffable
Debbie Burt Myers said she tried for years to use the word ineffable in one of her stories in the newspaper after learning around 2006 that it was author Willis Morris’ favorite word.
“Months and years went by and I never could find a person or place, outside of God and heaven, that could be too great or too extreme to be expressed or described in words,” she said.
About “two or three ice storms ago,” Myers traveled the thawing roads to Lowe’s where she unexpectedly found her uncle on the plumbing aisle.
“I shook my head and asked him why in the world was he out on these roads,” she said. “He quickly told me that some pipes at the church had frozen and burst and he was getting supplies to repair them.
“We chatted for a while and then I gave him a hug. I was walking away but for some reason I stopped and turned to look at him once again. That’s when I knew I had found my ineffable. It was my Uncle John.”
He was simply kind
John Burt said there were hundreds of thousands of words in the dictionary to describe his father, “but today I have chosen a simple word to describe a simple loving man and it is spelled k-i-n-d, kind. He was kind to the people he loved but most of all he was kind to everyone.”
Burt recalled the time he was sitting on the back porch with his dad when two ladies stopped by and asked if they could pick a few vegetables from his garden.
“He said, ‘I don’t mind at all,’” Burt said.
After they left, he asked his father who they were.
“He replied, ‘I don’t know.’ He didn’t know. All you had to do was stop and ask. I’m sure those ladies enjoyed that and they probably came back.”
Burt said his dad became a father to him on June 26, 1952.
“I’m certain he started learning how to be a dad because there was a difference. I thank God many times for picking me to be his son.”
Burt ended his remarks by saying his father was his “very best friend.”
Father Augustine Palimattam talked about his trips to McDonald’s with his good friend “Papa John” for the coffee and breakfast.
A native of India, the priest said Mr. Burt was reluctant to let him drive his tractor much less his car.
“Once, Papa asked me what he could do for me since it was my birthday,” he said. “I looked at him and said, ‘would you sing happy birthday to me?’ I had never heard him sing.”
Father Augustine said he tried to video him singing as he drove his car and Papa said, “Don’t put it on Spacebook,” what he called Facebook.
“I was in tears. It meant so much because singing to me was such a friendship,”
Father Augustine said. He also shared a story about the time he walked into Mr. Burt’s house through the traditionally unlocked back door only to find a stranger enjoying coffee and cookies with him in a friendly conversation.
“They had a good conversation which carried on for some time,” he said. “When he left, I said, ‘Papa, who was that man?’He said he didn’t know. Papa said he came to ask directions to some place. He knew no stranger. He was welcoming.”
Father Augustine told friends and family that Papa John “is sitting at the right hand of God” because he was kind to people, he was compassionate and knew no stranger.
The Rev. Evan Humphries closed the memorial, telling family and friends that Mr. Burt’s crown “was his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And he loved them well. He made an impact on his grandchildren.”
He also cited his relationship with his children.
“They are not ashamed of their father. They are proud of their father because of the way he lived his public life.”
Stan Burt sang “How Great Thou Art,” a reverent tribute to his uncle.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Community Foundation of East Mississippi John F. Burt Memorial Scholarship. Donations can be made online at www.cfem.org or mailed to CFEM, P.O. Box 865, Meridian, MS 39303. Please notate John F. Burt Memorial Scholarship fund. Mr. Burt’s children wanted a way to honor their father as well as his grandchildren through the scholarship.
“He loved supporting them,” Fulton said. “The scholarship will be given to a student who participates in a sport in which one of his grandsons played or in band like his granddaughter did.” The first recipient will be awarded in 2024.