clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Kim Burningham, former lawmaker, school board chairman, dies at age 80

Kim Burningham is photographed in 2015.
Kim Burningham is photographed in 2015.
Lee Benson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime Utah lawmaker, State School Board chairman and educator Kim Burningham died of cancer Friday afternoon, according to social media posts from friends and family members.

Burningham was 80.

"Kim was well-known for his passionate support of an open government and a strong education system. He was a great example of civic engagement and community service," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement Friday evening.

"From the countless students he influenced as a teacher to the thousands of citizens impacted through his work in state government and education, Kim leaves a legacy of exemplary service and dedication to the common good," the governor said.

Herbert also offered condolences on behalf of himself and his wife, Jeanette, to Burningham's wife, Susan, and "their sons and their grandchildren."

One of Burningham's sons, Chris, posted on Facebook on June 29 that his father found out in May that he had "metastatic cancer (that) started in his lungs" and then "spread to his liver, pancreas, colon and bones."

"Although he has been fatigued for a number of months, this has all been quite sudden and unexpected," Chris Burningham wrote. "The oncologist indicated that he might optimistically have three months to live. However, his strength is fading quickly."

Several people have shared well-wishes on the Facebook page since Chris Burningham's post, and the son promised to "regularly read your thoughts to him as I am able to do so," while noting that his father was often tired and weak, and unable to receive visitors.

Burningham, a Republican, served 15 years in the Utah Legislature, and 16 years on the State School Board — including seven as chairman.

Deseret News columnist Lee Benson sat down in May 2015 with Burningham for an interview at the Bountiful home where Kim and Susan Burningham at the time had lived for 46 years — beginning just 18 months into their marriage.

Burningham had retired from his longtime position on the school board just a few months earlier, and he reflected on his time in the state Legislature and with the State School Board in a question-and-answer session with Benson.

An educator first, Burningham taught speech and debate, and he directed school plays over a 27-year career at Bountiful High School, Benson reported.

"No one ever accused Burningham of being a slacker, or, for even higher praise, of being dishonest," he wrote in the 2015 column. "This is a man who has championed education causes as rigorously and enthusiastically as anyone in state history and yet, as a legislator, he stopped accepting perfectly legal campaign contributions from the Utah Education Association because he feared someone might view them as a conflict of interest."

Though retired, Burningham spent much of the interview talking about the five areas where he'd like to see Utah politics change: Reduce one-party domination; Reduce partisanship in all phases of government; Initiate campaign contribution limits; Significantly increase support of education; Minimize secrecy in political decision-making.

"My whole life I was in the public schools," he told Benson. "I feel like I’m closely allied to them, and I think the evidence is so clear that Utah … has just gone down and down. We give a smaller percentage of our income now than we did 10 years ago. People are more interested in amassing their own individual wealth and less interested in contributing to the public good.

"Public good has many manifestations, but one of the biggest is educating all kids so they are competent and knowledgeable," he said.

An alumni profile on the University of Utah's website describes Burningham as "a leader in education in Utah for nearly three decades, first as an elected representative in the Utah Legislature, and then as member of the Utah State Board of Education, where he served for an unprecedented seven years as chairman."

During his time as chairman, Burningham spearheaded a legal challenge to the Legislature's school voucher program, according to the profile, and "was the foremost campaign advocate for the subsequent statewide voter referendum on the controversial issue."