College mourns Arnold Burns ' 50, former chair of Board

Publication Date

Arnold I. Burns ’50, a prominent attorney, Justice Department official and trustee emeritus who served as chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees from 1982 to 1986, died Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. He was 83.

“The loss of Arnie Burns is a great loss for Union,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay after funeral services on Thursday in New York City. “He was a remarkable individual who served both College and country with distinction. It has been my pleasure to get to know him. In every way, he was a truly loyal son of Union whose leadership set the stage for the success we enjoy today.”

As a student, he was active in the Pre-Law Society, International Relations Club, Garnet, Alpha Phi Omega and Kappa Nu. As an alumnus, he was an admissions interviewer, class agent, national chairman of two Annual Funds, Alumni Council member, chairman of the Terrace Council and chairman of the Campaign for Union. He received the Gold Medal of the Alumni Council in 1980, and the Founders Medal for outstanding service in 1986.

During his tenure on the board, the College completed two major campaigns, developed a revised curriculum known as GenEd, and did extensive renovations of the College Center (later Reamer Campus Center) and Alumni Gymnasium.

After graduating with honors from Union with a degree in political science, he earned a law degree from Cornell University School of Law in 1953, and then spent four years with the Army Judge Advocate General. He formed a law firm – Burns Summit Rovins & Feldesman – and spent 25 years practicing corporate and securities law before joining the Justice Department.

He was named associate attorney general in 1985, and a year later was promoted to deputy attorney general by President Ronald Reagan. He resigned in protest in 1988 as Attorney General Edwin Meese III was being criticized for his handling of the Iran-Contra scandal. Meese resigned several months later.

After his time with the Justice Department, he joined Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, staying there for about 10 years before moving to an investment firm and establishing a consulting firm.

Active in a number of charities, he was national chairman of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and chairman of the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

A well-known raconteur, he published a memoir, Prepare to Be Lucky, and two books of jokes. He and his wife, Felice, donated the Herman and Rose Burns Print Collection from which many prints are on display in a current Mandeville Gallery exhibition. He and his family also donated the funds to create the Burns Arts Atrium, the main gallery in the Arts Building.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years; and two children, Linda ’75 and Douglas ’79.

To read his obituary in the New York Times, click here.