Life Was Full
– a biographical synopsis
John Henry Burnett and Ruth Deaton Burnett
Written and compiled by Susie Burnett Jones – 2007
Talk about integrity, strength and faith! Some challenges encourage the development of these characteristics. This is a story about a time and an
environment that brought out the best in those who lived it.
John Henry Burnett was born in 1888, in Burgaw, North Carolina, one of seven children. He was the oldest son of Katherine Ann Cowan of Pender County and John William Henry Burnett, of Wilmington.
Henry’s father was born and grew up on Third Street in Wilmington, but When he married, he and his bride moved to Burgaw in Pender County and later to the farm one mile north of Burgaw which was a gift to them from his father in-law. There was no big house. Their home was a rambling board and batt farmhouse with a detached kitchen. The “big house” would never materialize. But they were an energetic, affectionate couple, and the farm enabled them to live comfortably and successfully rear seven children.
In later years this country setting made an interesting backdrop for political discussions by the living room fire, or in rocking chairs on the front porch While grandchildren scampered through the yard or climbed the nearby mulberry tree and ate the berries until their lips turned blue. Henry’s father, a small boy during the Civil War, would mesmerize an attentive audience with tales of the occasion when, at age 5, he was hurriedly told to lead the horses deep into the woods to hide them from Union soldiers.
Schooled by his parents in his earliest years, Henry was a precocious child. His father was exceptionally proud of him and took him along on daily trips to the Burgaw Post Office where the local men congregated. There he amused his father’s friends by reciting poetry and quoting from the classics. Almost every summer as a boy Henry would spend some time with Uncle Tom who lived south of Wilmington and owned extensive acreage in that area. He enjoyed visiting his cousins, and became familiar with the lower Cape Fear River and the coast.
Henry attended the Burgaw Graded School from 1898 to 1907, and at 19 served as assistant postmaster of the Burgaw Post Office for one year. He entered Wake Forest College in January, 1909. Henry enjoyed the new people he met at Wake Forest, was impressed by his professors and entranced by the academic atmosphere. He studied the classics and the law and played tennis. As a junior he joined the Euzelian Literary Society, a group of students interested in literature, poetry, and “the zealous pursuit of the good things in life.”
In 1910-11 he was Judge of the Moot Court; he won the coveted J. A. Allen Orator’s Medal presented by the Society, and was senior speaker in 1911. In August, 1910, prior to graduation, he passed the law examination and received his license to practice law from the North Carolina Supreme Court.
His first job was principal of the consolidated school in Snow Hill, North Carolina for the 1911-1912 school year. On February 12, 1912, his Wake Forest classmate Henry Wallin dropped him a note in which he said, “Have you been planning your Washington trip?” Evidently Henry had expressed an interest in visiting or living in Washington, DC. 1 Henry worked hard and lived modestly. When an opportunity presented itself to open a law practice in the town of Lillington in June, 1912, he took it.
Keeping his eyes open for new opportunities he applied for the position of Reading Clerk of the North Carolina Senate extra session of 1913 and was elected. Winning the Orator’s Medal at Wake Forest College worked to his advantage. Following the Legislature’s adjournment in January, 1914, he and a partner opened a law office in Troy. In Raleigh he had been calling on a young lady named Alice Wilson, later the Wife of Governor Melville Broughton. In Troy he became aware for the first time of Ruth Deaton.
Once there was a charismatic little girl, Marnie Ruth, born in 1894 to Henrietta Jordan and James Martin Deaton of Troy, North Carolina. She was the youngest daughter in a family of seven children. Their Queen Anne style home bustled with the comings and goings of a typical small Southern town. The porch rockers were in full use each late afternoon, and the swing rarely stood still.
Hardcover: 87 pages
Publisher: Casablanca Associates Ltd. (2007)
About the Author
Mildred Deaton Burnett (Susie) grew up in Burgaw, N.C., spending the summers at her family’s Carolina Beach cottage. In 1945 she was a member of the first post-war freshman class at UNC-G, and in early 1950 she responded to her college room-mate’s invitation to visit New York.
Mesmerized by the City, her intended two-week stay lasted for three years. She worked as a buyer-trainee at Gimbels, studied voice and modern dance, got a taste of off-Broadway as a featured singer in the Originals Only production of Dakota, and spent two years as an interviewer and junior executive at Arthur Murray’s Manhattan studio.
Her Grandmother’s death in late 1952 brought her back down to earth and she decided to return to Raleigh. There she met her future husband, William Davis Jones III, and they were married in 1953.
Two children later she founded the Raleigh Junior Cotillion Club, and ran it for ten years. In 1971 she became president of her family’s land development company, a position she held for 22 years. Always active in church, cultural, civic and school affairs, she also supported her husband’s newspaper career and reared five children.
She and her husband live in Raleigh, perpetually entertained by eight grandchildren. And, even after all these years, she still enjoys that cottage at Carolina Beach, which she shares with her six surviving siblings.