Dr. Burhans

Remembering the Rev. Dr. David Burhans

April 18, 2023

University News

The Rev. Dr. David Burhans, chaplain emeritus, left an enduring and positive impact on the world. Dr. Burhans died on April 11, following a brief illness.

“Generations of Richmond alumni would surely consider Burhans to be a cherished iconic figure, the spiritual face of the University of Richmond,” said Scott Allison, emeritus psychology and leadership studies professor. “Even the briefest encounter with Burhans left people feeling valued and loved, and certainly moved, at the deepest level of their being.”

Dr. Burhans joined the University of Richmond in September 1974 and retired in June 2004. During his 30 years as chaplain, he served as pastor, preacher, teacher, and spiritual leader of the Richmond community and was beloved for his kindness, grace, and good humor.

He officiated at weddings of generations of Spiders and provided guidance to countless others through all stages of life. He worked diligently to build a vibrant and welcoming religious ecology on campus, to offer ethical guidance on the difficult issues of the day, and to nurture the life of the spirit in each person. He was instrumental in the creation of the E. Carlton Wilton Center for Interfaith Campus Ministries in 1990, where the prayer room is named for him.

“David Burhans was a beloved mentor and friend to me and countless others. All the wonderful programming happening through the Chaplaincy today reflects Dr. Burhans’ remarkable ministry for so long,” said Craig T. Kocher, University chaplain. “The Chaplaincy is flourishing now because of his leadership then.”   

As a student at UR, Kim Dean-Anderson was a Bonner Scholar, and she often crossed paths with Dr. Burhans. “I appreciated his gentle, compassionate spirit, and he saw a social change advocate and educator in me before I saw these things in myself. When I came to work at UR, I knew that his was a legacy I was carrying forward, and I was blessed to see the pride in his eyes as other UR students did the same.” Today, she is the senior associate director of community relationships for UR’s Center for Civic Engagement.

Following his retirement, Dr. Burhans served for 10 years as special assistant to Advancement.

“When I think of David, I think of someone who in friendship joined each of us exactly where we were,” said Robb Moore, assistant vice president of Advancement Systems. Moore also served with him as his associate chaplain and director of the Bonner scholars from 2001 until his retirement as chaplain. “He was my most significant mentor in college and I can think of no one outside of my family who had a greater positive impact on my life, as a student, as a colleague, and as a dear, lifelong friend.”

Moore said those who knew him were often led “to heed his counsel to encounter one another as siblings in a spirit of dialogue seeking understanding instead of the zero-sum game of argument and debate that dominates so much of the rest of our cultural and social contexts.”

Dr. Burhans received many accolades during his long tenure at Richmond. The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement created the Burhans Civic Fellowship in his honor in 2005. He was a loyal supporter of Spider sports for nearly five decades and was honored for his ministry to Spider athletes with his induction into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012. Upon his retirement, he received the Trustees Distinguished Service Award.      

“David Burhans had a scholar’s head and a pastor’s heart,” Kocher added. “He knew everyone by name and made everyone feel welcome.  He embodied the best of the University of Richmond for generations of Spiders.” 

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. April 23, in Cannon Memorial Chapel with a reception to follow in the Robins Pavilion of the Jepson Alumni Center.