Thomas L. Burnside, Jr.
Various memorials quote Tom Burnside as saying, “If you are going to do anything, do it right and practice, practice, practice,” a philosophy that rang true in his own life. Burnside was born January 3, 1933, in Geraldine, Alabama, and after a brief residence in Collinsville, graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery in 1952. In 1956, he received a bachelor’s degree in vocational agriculture education from API and that same year, married Billie Ruth Sandley of Montgomery.
Burnside taught vocational education and worked in the poultry industry before accepting a position as assistant county Extension agent in Randolph County. At his best working with young people, Burnside understood the impact 4-H could have on children’s lives and had a policy that all 4-H’ers had to participate in showmanship classes which taught discipline, sportsmanship and cooperation. He could always be found in a barn working to help the 4-H’ers prepare their animals for the show and he expected nothing less from all those young people in his charge, whether they were actually showing an animal or not.
Considered by those he served to be a public-spirited citizen, Burnside worked on any project when called upon for the betterment of his own community and county. In 1965-66, he was selected by Roanoke Jaycees as Randolph County’s Young Educator of the Year. Through the years, he was also tapped as a county celebrity to participate in the local Bike Hike, a community fundraiser to support the Randolph County Learning Center.
Always on the alert for programs to help young people become better citizens, Burnside helped organize the Alabama Junior Cattlemen’s Association and was one of the first to organize a county program. He was instrumental in building the Randolph County Cattlemen’s Association from 55 members in the early 1960s to almost 400 by the time he retired. In recognition of his service to the cattle industry, Burnside was named a Lifetime Director of the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in 1991. As tribute to the life and career of Tom Burnside, his friends and neighbors, through the Randolph County Farmers Federation, funded a booth in his honor as an addition to the State Cattlemen’s Association Building in Montgomery.
Burnside believed in commitment to community and put that belief into action in his own life as evidenced by his 44-year perfect attendance record with the Wedowee Kiwanis Club. He participated and held offices in the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, Randolph County Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, Alabama Association of County Agricultural Agents, Alabama Association of Extension 4-H Agents, Randolph County Farmers Federation, Gideon’s International, and his own congregation, the Wedowee First United Methodist Church. To those connected to Randolph County High School, he will be remembered for all those Friday nights during the 40 years he volunteered in the press box and the 10 years he served as the “Voice of the Tigers.”
Burnside was very supportive of his alma mater, the AU College of Agriculture, the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity, and the Ag Alumni Association. For many years, he was auctioneer for the annual Roundup Scholarship Auction and in subsequent years, continued to participate as a spotter. His enthusiasm no doubt helped raise excitement as well as much-needed scholarship funds.
Tom Burnside passed away on October 28, 2005, just six short weeks after assisting with that year’s Ag Alumni Roundup Auction. He is survived by his devoted wife, Billie Ruth, two children–Tammie and Jack– and a granddaughter, whose arrival he eagerly awaited.