Charles “Eddie” Burge ‘65: The power of an Aggie’s legacy
In honor of Muster, April’s Series of Service feature is in memoriam of one of the College of Liberal Arts’ greatest friends and leaders who passed away last year.
By Rachel Knight ‘18
Editor’s Note: The following is a Series of Service feature in memoriam of a long time Liberal Arts Development Council member and executive chair, Charles “Eddie” Burge ’65. The series highlights individuals who give generously of their time and resources as members of either the Liberal Arts Development Council or the Liberal Arts Advisory Council, and Eddie served the college diligently for many years. Several people who worked with Eddie during this time answered questions to help illustrate Eddie’s service to the college.
Throughout his life, Charles “Eddie” Burge ‘65 proved to be a wonderful leader, a selfless servant, and an excellent example of each Aggie Core Value. After graduating from Texas A&M University, where he studied government and served as a Ross Volunteer, Eddie served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He put his leadership skills to the test in some of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War, including Con Thien. He earned the Bronze Star (with Combat “V”) and two Purple Hearts.
After he returned to civilian life, Eddie pursued a law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. He practiced law for three years in San Antonio, and then moved back to his home city — Houston — to work for the real estate development company his father founded. In 1992, Eddie founded his own company, Eland Development. Along with his associates, he developed many landmark commercial and residential properties in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Before Eddie passed away on November 10, 2019, he and his wife Linda dedicated their time and resources to creating a legacy at Texas A&M. As a major supporter and long-time leader in the College of Liberal Arts, a major part of Eddie’s legacy is his unwavering support of the liberal arts.
We chatted on the phone with some of the people who had the honor of working closely with Eddie in supporting the College of Liberal Arts. Together, their interviews create a narrative of the service Eddie provided for the college throughout his lifetime. These interviews, which have been condensed and edited for clarity, may awe and inspire you.
Tell me about how you got to know Eddie.
John Knudsen, former senior director of development in the College of Liberal Arts: Eddie was one of the first people I met on my first trip to Houston while working for the college. He was a very strong person. He was small in stature, but great at heart and great in terms of the volume that he spoke. His favorite word was, “HOWDY!”
He was chair of the Liberal Arts Development Council for a long time. He was always pushing for us to engage younger Ags. At the Council Meeting this fall, I was pleased to see that there were many younger Ags engaged in the LAAC [Liberal Arts Advisory Council].
G. Philip Huey, fellow LADC member and former LADC executive chair: I first met Eddie and his wife Linda through Eddie’s role on the council. We were good friends and we always tried to support each other. I really tried to support him after he became chairman, because I was the previous executive chair when he took on that responsibility. We talked a lot about the responsibility of the council, and the responsibility of trying to lead this group.
Jennifer Newsom, former development assistant in the College of Liberal Arts: This is going to sound strange, but it’s like I don’t remember not knowing him. I talked to him every week at times, at other times once a month, and if nothing else, then once a quarter while I was working for the college.
I don’t remember exactly when I met him, but I remember going to his house for the first time and finding out that he had two swimming pools. Their house was actually two properties that were joined together to make one house with two pools, so he turned one of the pools into a catfish pond. Those were some big catfish. They were almost like his pets. They were huge.
Leanne South, former director of communications in the College of Liberal Arts: The first time I met Eddie was when I went with John Knudsen to Houston to visit a group of LADC members in that area.John asked Eddie about his hunting trip. He had gone up to Montana to do some big grizzly hunting. I grew up in West Texas where we hunted all the time. I was used to hunting and using guns, but to hear Eddie describe it was like hearing someone talk about sports. I was a little taken aback, especially about killing a grizzly.
After that first initial impression, I had a chance to see a little bit more of who he was. The more I had a chance to be around him, the more I got to know him and the kind of person he was. He liked to hunt, no doubt, but there was a lot more to him. He was a leader in what he did professionally, so I think those kinds of qualities really worked well for him in leading the Liberal Arts Development Council. People respected him and looked up to him. He was just a nice fit.
Charlie Johnson, former College of Liberal Arts dean: I met Eddie at a council meeting before I became the dean. Eddie and I picked up a conversation there. We talked about politics and I took him as a person who was quite interested in the work we were doing in political science. He asked questions and listened, and was obviously well read himself.
Really, he identified with the purpose of liberal arts in higher education. He believed that it was very important to include the humanities, social sciences, and the arts in a university degree. He joined the development council prior to my service as dean, but while I served as dean, he chaired the council for several years. It was a critical time, because there was a capital campaign moving forward. There was an effort to build endowments in the university, including the College of Liberal Arts, and Eddie played a really big role in that.
Why was Eddie a good leader?
John: Just the way he lived his life and ran his business. He was honest and good. He wasn’t someone who told stories about himself. He was always asking you questions about yourself, and having intelligent reactions.
G. Philip: Eddie was determined. He was dedicated to Texas A&M and to doing the very best for the College of Liberal Arts that he could. He assumed the responsibility willingly and enthusiastically. I think that’s what you have to do when accepting responsibility. Eddie was also great at encouraging others to fulfill their roles as council members to the best of their abilities. Eddie did that beautifully, all that time.
Jennifer: He wouldn’t ask someone else to commit if he wouldn’t do it himself. He’s a leader by example. If he’s asking somebody else to do something, he’s going to also do it.
What drove Eddie’s passion for the College of Liberal Arts?
G. Philip: I’m certain it was the fact that he was an Aggie who wanted to give back how he could.
Leanne: He cared about the university, and he cared about students. Most donors recognize that they’ve been blessed with success and they want to do something thoughtful and impactful with that. One of the ways you do that is by helping other people, especially students. Eddie definitely carried that passion with him.
Charlie: He was very interested in giving students the tools and background they needed to be successful in whatever career they pursued. For example, he loved talking to students and learning about what they were doing. He would offer wisdom and advice to those students. He really did connect with undergraduates.
In your opinion, what was the most significant thing Eddie did to serve the College of Liberal Arts?
John: Eddie loudly proclaimed the virtue of the liberal arts as chairman of the Liberal Arts Development Council.
Jennifer: He was the chair of the development council for years. Leading the council the way he did was a serious commitment of time and talent. He brought his colleagues and friends to be part of that. The development council was his group for a really long time. You could always count on Eddie and his wife Linda.
Charlie: Aside from providing resources and making gifts for the college, he served as chair of the development council for a number of years. He brought the possibility of new donors to the college and he provided leadership to the council to move forward. That meant that his impact extended well beyond his own giving.
In short terms, it was his leadership of the development council in critical moments throughout a capital campaign that was a very important contribution beyond his own gifts to the college.
Why should people follow Eddie’s philanthropic footsteps and support the College of Liberal Arts?
Leanne: When I was working in the College of Liberal Arts, we had a young lady who worked in our office who was a first generation college student from the Valley. Her parents were itinerant farm workers. For the three year period she was in school, she never had a car. A transformative event for her was when she got to go on a study abroad trip to Italy thanks in part to a scholarship. That experience completely opened up her world and gave her a desire to travel. That’s the kind of giving Eddie inspired. What we give may not be a big gift, but it’s a big start for some of our students.
Charlie: An informed graduate from Texas A&M University needs to have a strong liberal arts background in order to stay current and understand the world around them and how to deal with people. To support the College of Liberal Arts is to make for a better university and to add enormously to undergraduate education. Because students are required to take a number of liberal arts courses, to support the College of Liberal Arts is to support every undergraduate who attends Texas A&M.
What is Eddie’s legacy at Texas A&M?
G. Philip: His legacy is that he showed us how to give back enthusiastically. I think that’s a legacy that so many of us ought to strive for. He learned the lesson well while he was at Texas A&M. He learned that you love this place so much, that you give back to it.
Jennifer: Service and loyalty. I’ve never met a truer Aggie, ever. He loved his family, he loved his school, he loved his wife beyond measure. He was all of the things that an Aggie should be. That is his true legacy.