Alumni Profiles, News

In Memoriam: Ruth Ann Burns

Burns DC’67, GSNB’75, a trailblazer in journalism, broadcasting, and communications, died April 9. An inductee to the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni who also received the university’s Scarlet Forever Award, she proudly served and supported her alma mater. She is pictured with her husband, Carl, whom she met at Rutgers and married in 1965.

By Sam Starnes GSN’04

When Ruth Ann Burns was a rising senior at Rutgers University’s Douglass College in 1966, she didn’t head down the Shore for a summer job—she went to Vietnam as the war was escalating to work as a reporter, becoming the youngest female journalist there. “I was a journalism major, and that was the biggest story of the day,” Burns told the Daily Targum in 2012. “I wanted to get over there to cover the war.”

Ruth Ann Burn

Burns graduated with her undergraduate degree the following year, going on to a stellar career, first in newspapers, then in broadcasting. She rose to vice president and director of Thirteen/WNET’s Educational Resources Center in New York, the nation’s flagship public television station. She served in a number of directorial capacities over 18 years, and her achievements included developing two Emmy award-winning public affairs series. She later served as vice president of marketing and external affairs for Georgian Court University and established The Burns Group, a consulting business focused on communications, marketing, and public affairs.

Ruth Ann Robbins

“What I found to be really amazing about her is that although she was a tiny package—all of five feet—she had a huge presence,” says her longtime friend and fellow Rutgers alumna Lora Fong, assistant attorney general and chief diversity officer for the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. “She was very genuine and brought out the best in people.”

Fong DC’79, NLAW’91, who has served on both the Rutgers Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees, met Burns in 1978 when Fong was a student and Burns worked for the Eagleton Institute of Politics. They shared an office and became fast friends. Fong recalled that Burns’ father, Chet Shea, worked for Rutgers for many years reupholstering furniture. Burns, Fong says, was “a huge Rutgers supporter. She was extremely active at Rutgers in so many different ways.”

In addition to her undergraduate degree, Burns earned a master’s in political science in 1975 from the Graduate School–New Brunswick as a Fellow at the Eagleton Institute. She later served on numerous Rutgers boards, including the Board of Trustees, as well as boards of advisers for the Eagleton Institute and the Rutgers Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences. Her Rutgers awards also were numerous: The Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni inducted her in 1989; the Douglass Society inducted her in 2001; she was honored as a Loyal Daughter of Rutgers in 2014; and in 2017, she and her husband Carl RC’64, GSNB’73, were awarded the Scarlet Forever Award.

Her obituary can be found on the web site for the Brunswick Funeral Home, which is in charge of the arrangements.

Her family requests that gifts, in lieu of flowers, can be made to the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey with a note that the gift is in her memory.