Gerald "Bummy" Burstein, Who Inspired Many with a Lifetime of Dedicated Service, Died Friday in Riverside, CA--Student Unity Movement press release

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Gerald “Bummy” Burstein, a very prominent Deaf community leader who was beloved by many, died Friday in Riverside, California, August 31, 2018. He was 91 years old.

Prominent Deaf community leader and Gallaudet University’s most prominent active alumni leader, Gerald “Bummy” Burstein died Friday in Riverside, California, August 31, 2018. He was 91 years old.

Robert Davila, president emeritus of Gallaudet, knew Burstein since 1948, when Bummy was a sophomore and Davila was a preparatory student. “Bummy Burstein lived a long and productive life centered on devoted service to the Deaf community, whom he loved enormously and who equally loved him in return,” said Davila. “He was forever known by his nickname, ‘Bummy,’ a throwback to his beloved Brooklyn birthplace and the Dodgers baseball team.”

Davila explained the particular expertise for which Burstein was well known: “A professionally qualified parliamentarian, Bummy was a familiar figure at conventions and gatherings of deaf organizations who wanted to ensure accurate recordings and appropriate rules of order. He was a generous contributor of time and funding for many causes in the deaf community, especially Gallaudet University, his alma mater, for which he served as a member of the Alumni Board of Directors for longer than anyone ever has. Teacher, parliamentarian, generous benefactor, compassionate crusader and beloved friend, Bummy was this and much more throughout a charmed life.”

Alyce Reynolds followed in Bummy’s footsteps and served as alumni president for several years. "Bummy has set the gold standard for the alumni because of his generosity, as well as his leadership of the GUAA during a challenging time in the university's history, and his commitment to all current and future students," said Reynolds.

Burstein played a prominent role during the Deaf President Now (DPN) protest, on the Gallaudet campus in 1988, while he was president of the 10,000 member strong Gallaudet University Alumni Association. On Day 3 of the protest, Burstein announced to the press:

"The alumni sympathize with and support the students… Members of the board who lack confidence in the abilities of deaf persons have no business serving on the Gallaudet University Board and should resign."

When Bummy spoke (signed), people listened. The chairperson of the Gallaudet Board of Trustees resigned four days later.

In his role as a prominent spokesperson for the alumni, during a rally in the front of the campus during DPN (on Day 4) Burstein declared: ''The Gallaudet University Board's decision to select a hearing president is a setback for deaf people everywhere… If Gallaudet does not exert leadership in this area, no one else will.''

The Board’s intended long-term presidential appointee, Elisabeth Zinser, resigned after a very short few days being president. Before the protest victory was achieved, Burstein set the tone for the attitude that many would adapt toward the outgoing appointee: "We feel sorry for her and have nothing against her personally... We *are* upset with the Board of Trustees, because we had qualified deaf candidates. It is the same feeling students at Howard University would feel if a white were selected when there are qualified Blacks."

Burstein added: "We hope the hearing community understands our feeling of oppression... We're only doing what other groups, like the Blacks and Irish, did in showing the public we are just as human as you are."

"His advocacy for human rights and equality that he practiced in his beliefs made a huge influence in the Deaf community," said Missy Keast, who studied at both Gallaudet University and Arizona State University. "He was such a good-hearted man. He was very generous to everyone and to himself, too. He had a high self-respect for himself and for others."

"He will be greatly missed for his dedication to the deaf community and Gallaudet," remarks DPN student leader Jerry Covell. "If it were not for him, we would not have the flying hands in America," states Covell, referring to Burstein’s influence in spreading the type of visual applause he saw used in France over to the United States.

“Bummy’s public endorsement of the DPN was the source of inspiration to the DPN supporters, especially the students, as it signified the alumni’s support from different generations throughout the world,” said DPN student leader and then-student body president Greg Hlibok. “It was inspiring not only due to his role as a GUAA president, but it came from him as a dignified individual who held high respect among us in the community. He also was a true friend to everyone at Gallaudet.”

Burstein was a member of the Board of Directors of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association for 29 years – 3 years as Vice President, 13 years as President, and 13 as Immediate Past President. Not only was he awarded the very first honorary degree from the newly named “Gallaudet University” in 1986, as part of the ceremony that marked Gallaudet College changing into Gallaudet University, but later, in 2014, he was also given the Sesquicentennial Distinguished Alumni Award.

Nancy Hlibok Amann, Superintendent at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside, where Burstein worked and volunteered for many years, before and after retirement, aptly sums up the impact his life had on the lives of so many others:

“Gerald ‘Bummy’ Burstein was an educator, mentor, advocate, and inspiration for countless students, teachers, families, and community members at California School for the Deaf at Riverside. He was widely renowned for his knowledge, skill, and leadership in the field of parliamentary procedure, writing a book on the matter and providing training for countless companies, organizations, and individuals over the years. People also knew him for his approachability, his dry wit, and his selflessness. He truly was one of a kind, and his legacy will be forever remembered.”

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Brian K. Riley
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