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In Memory

Donald E. Burns

Donald Edward "Don" Burns
August 8, 1926 - November 13, 1993


Don E. Burns, a veteran teacher and a lifeguard who was once described as a "landmark, like the Newport Beach pier," is dead at 67. He had been a high school teacher and coach in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 31 years, and he was a Newport Beach lifeguard for 47 years.

Burns suffered a heart arrhythmia at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Costa Mesa as he was leaving a gathering of friends. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at Hoag Hospital.

Burns had once said he never wanted to retire as a lifeguard, and he never did. He was still an active lifeguard teacher in Newport Beach at the time of his death.

"We all loved him; he taught many of us," Lt. Jim Turner of Newport Beach's Marine Department said. "Don Burns was a man who was always smiling and making people happy."

A native of Santa Ana, Burns spent most of his life teaching and as a lifeguard in the Newport Beach area. He received his bachelor's degree in education from USC in 1950 and a master's degree, also in education, from Azusa Pacific University in 1979.

Burns' teaching career included being a football coach at Newport Harbor High and later at Costa Mesa High, and a track coach at Estancia High. He taught high school math and physical education from 1953 until his retirement from Newport-Mesa Unified in 1984.

In a 1973 feature story about Burns that appeared in The Times, one admirer described him as being a "landmark" because he had been part of the Newport Beach scene so many years. At the time, Burns told an interviewer, "I trust the ocean, and I respect it. . . . I don't have any plan to retire" from being a lifeguard.

Survivors include his wife, Rose; a daughter, Kathy Burns of Covina; two sons, John of Costa Mesa and Don Robert of Cypress, and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Pacific View Memorial Park in Newport Beach.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Orange County chapter of the American Heart Assn.

By Bill Billiter. Published Nov. 15, 1993, Los Angeles Times

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02/01/18 06:47 PM #1    

Larry Motschenbacher

[While looking for information on Coach Burns, I also came across this write-up. Larry M.]

Don Burns, Millennium Hall of Fame

December 11, 2000

Richard Dunn

Don Burns, known as an easygoing gentleman with great dignity, lived a life disputing Leo Durocher's famous line of "nice guys finish last."

The late Burns, who grew up in Newport Beach as an outstanding swimmer and waterman through the city's junior lifeguard department, left a legacy of Nice Guys Finish First.

"He was such a likable individual -- you just had to admire everything he did," longtime friend, mentor and colleague, Al Irwin, said of Burns. A dedicated coach, Burns touched countless lives at Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools, as well as members in the Newport Beach Lifeguard program.

As a 12-year-old kid, Burns joined the junior aquatics circuit in the late 1930s under the tutelage of lifeguard captain Irwin, who started the junior program.

Burns moved out of the area during his high school years and later attended USC, then returned to his roots in 1953 to coach football at Newport Harbor under Irwin. It was the beginning of a memorable relationship between the beloved Burns and the Newport-Mesa School District.

Before Burns died of an apparent heart attack on Nov. 13, 1993, at age 67, he enjoyed a 31-year tour of duty with the school district that concluded in 1984. Burns also became a Lieutenant Lifeguard and served 47 years for the Newport Beach program, fulfilling a promise that he'd never willingly retire from his passion in life, aside, of course, from his family, including wife Rose, sons John and Don Jr., and daughter Kathy.

"Our lifeguards always said Don had just one emotion, always happy," Jim Turner, a longtime friend and former Marine Safety Lieutenant, once said. "He was always there with a big handshake and a smile. No one ever saw him down, nor did he ever have anything impolite to say about someone. He was just a very special man."

As a head football coach, Burns inherited a struggling team (Harbor) and a brand new program (Mesa) as the losses outnumbered the victories. As the Sailors' head coach for two years (1956-57), then Costa Mesa's sideline chief for three (1960-62), Burns compiled a 13-28-3 mark as the "nice guy" image haunted him.

But that's when Burns arrived at Estancia and helped open another new high school in Costa Mesa, assuming the reins of the Eagles' track and field program for several years.

"Don could really relate to the kids -- he was such an easygoing guy," Emil Neeme, a former basketball coach at Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Mater Dei, once said.

Irwin, who has known Burns longer than anyone in the area, said the beloved coach "put his heart and soul into (coaching) and was easy to get along with." Burns served as Irwin's backfield coach for three years before taking over as head coach when Irwin was hired as the football coach at Orange Coast College. Irwin's final gridiron squad at Harbor in '55 was filled with seniors,leaving the next year's team, in Burns' inaugural season as head coach, with mostly inexperienced players.

"I can't speak highly enough of him," Irwin said of Burns, the latest honoree in the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame, of which Irwin is also a member. "Not only was he a good coach, but he was a dear friend. "(His death) was a real shame, because he passed very suddenly. None of us expected any (health) problems."

Burns seemed to always be young at heart.

By Richard Dunn. Published Dec 11, 2000, Daily Pilot

02/01/18 08:26 PM #2    

Larry Motschenbacher

[While looking for information on Coach Burns, I also came across this write-up. Larry M.]


When asked during the 1958-1959 school year at Costa Mesa High, "What was your biggest mistake?", Coach Burns replied, "......eating." 

When the 1930 Federal Census was taken, Donald Edward Burns was only three years old. He was listed as a "lodger" with a Mr. and Mrs. James Watkins, who resided on Sycamore in Santa Ana, Orange County, California. James worked as a salesman for Edison Light and his wife, Olive, was a homemaker. It is possible, for whatever reason, Donald lived in foster care. No parents were mentioned.

By 1940, Donald was recorded as the son of Ray and Kathryn Saunders. It is not known if Kathryn was his biological mother or if he was adopted by the Saunders. The family lived on 22nd Street in Newport Beach. Ray worked a long forty-eight hour week as an electrician; Kathryn was a homemaker; and Donald was in the eighth grade.

On January 26, 1945, Donald enlisted as a Private in the Air Corps at Fort Macarthur in San Pedro, California. He was assigned to the Medical Administrative Corps (MAC). Donald's registration card states he had completed four years of high school; was then employed as a skilled metal worker; was single; and had no dependents.

Once discharged from the military service, Donald attended the University of Southern California and received a BA degree in 1950. In 1979, he completed the requirements for his Masters from Azusa Pacific University.

Donald began his thirty-one year teaching and coaching career in 1953 at Newport Harbor High in Newport Beach, California. He taught mathematics, physical education, and was a football coach. In 1959, the newly built Costa Mesa High School opened its doors, so Donald accepted a teaching position there and again, he coached football. He moved on to Estancia High at some point, where he was the track coach. Coach Burns continued working for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District until his retirement in 1984. 

Besides being an educator, Donald was a lifeguard in Newport Beach for forty-seven years. He was once described as a "landmark, like the Newport Pier." He was known to be a happy person, who was always smiling.

Donald died from a heart arrhythmia, leaving behind his loving wife, a daughter, two sons, and three grandchildren to mourn his passing.  

By Jo-Ann (no last name provided).  Published on Find-A-Grave.com

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