Campus & Community

Prominent figure in health care Francis H. Burr, 90

3 min read


Francis H. (Hooks) Burr, 90, who earned his living as a lawyer and devoted his considerable energies to improving higher education and health care, died November 25, 2004, in Boston. He was a resident of Beverly, Mass., and Islesboro, Maine.


Said Harvard University President Emeritus Derek Bok, “Hooks Burr was the finest trustee with whom I have ever worked, one of the latest in a long line of distinguished Bostonians who have watched over Harvard and encouraged its growth and progress for over three centuries.”

Burr was born in Nahant, Mass., the son of I. Tucker Burr and Evelyn Thayer Burr. In 1935, he graduated from Harvard College and in 1938, from Harvard Law School. That same year, he joined the law firm of Ropes, Gray, Best, Coolidge and Rugg. World War II interrupted Burr’s career with service in the Navy as an air combat intelligence officer and as a Navy lawyer. He was later a partner at Ropes and Gray, specializing in general corporate law, and was the chairman of the policy committee from 1967 until 1978.

Burr was a tolerant, fair-minded man, say those who knew him. He was an early and vigorous supporter of the United Negro College Fund and of the ACLU.

As a member of the Harvard Corporation from 1954 until 1982 and senior fellow from 1971 until 1982, Burr worked for the University at one of its most tumultuous times – navigating through student protests, the takeover of University Hall, and a divided faculty.

In recognition of his service to the University, Burr received an honorary degree of doctor of laws in 1982. He also received the Harvard Medal in 1985 and served as the Chief Marshal of Harvard’s 350th Anniversary Celebration in 1986.

A memorial service for Francis H. (Hooks) Burr will be held at 11 a.m. on Dec. 9 at the Memorial Church.

Burr had an intense interest in health care and was a trustee of Massachusetts General Hospital from 1962 to 1987. He was chairman of the MGH Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1987. He continued to work for MGH until his death.

After overseeing the purchase of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, which is a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital, Burr became a member of its board of directors, taking a keen interest in its activities for the rest of his life.

He was instrumental in the creation of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care system with Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, academic medical centers, community hospitals, and primary care providers and home care.

In addition to these and numerous other charitable endeavors, Burr was a 53-year member and past president of the Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He served on the boards of directors of many companies including Corning, Raytheon, American Airlines, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, the Fiduciary Trust Company of New York, the State Street Research and Management Company, and New England Electric System.

Nancy Blagden Pell, whom he married in 1951, predeceased him in 1977. In 1979, Burr married the former Lucy Aldrich. He is survived by her and her children, Wenonah and David W. Devens; three children from his first marriage, Samuel H. Burr, Nancy P. Hayden, and Alice N. Pell; nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Two of his brothers, Tucker Burr of Walpole, N.H., and John T. Burr of Gulf Breeze, Fla., also survive him.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Cotting School, 453 Concord Ave., Lexington, MA 02421.