Edward Carter Burrus Jr. remembers rooting around the family home in Miami as a child and coming upon his mother’s stash of nursing books.
He thought he found treasure. What he really found, as a child, was bragging rights around his Schenley Park neighborhood chums. As Burrus Jr. entered adulthood, these feelings developed into a lifelong admiration of his mother, Gertrude Burrus, who died March 18, less than a year shy of her 100th birthday. She left a century’s worth of memories.
Burrus was a nurse for 40 years with Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables. Before that, she was a U.S. Navy nurse and officer during World War II.
“Around the house she had hundreds of nurse books,” Burrus Jr. said. “When you are a kid and looking for something bizarre and you see a book with a picture of a guy with three heads you think, ‘Mom has the greatest job!’ ”
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It was great having a mom as a nurse … having a mom as a nurse meant no hysteria.
Edward Carter Burrus Jr. on his mother, Gertrude Burrus.
The origins of Burrus’ nursing career can be traced to her childhood in Farrell, Pennsylvania, and her mother, Stella Perdian, said her son. “She was a carbon copy of her mother, who would help people and was caring and giving and that was during the Depression.”
Burrus trained as a nurse and joined the U.S. Navy. There, she met the man who would become her husband of 48 years, Naval enlisted seaman Edward Carter Burrus, who was serving on the USS Reuben James. Shortly after he left the ship, due to rheumatic heart disease, the destroyer became the first Navy ship sunk in World War II by a German submarine. Only 44 enlisted men, of a crew of about 160, survived.
The enlistee was Gertrude Perdian’s heart patient. They fell in love. She resigned from her position as a Naval officer to marry her former patient. “Officers were not allowed to date enlisted men,” her son explained.
In 1947, the couple moved to Miami, where they raised five children. Burrus Sr. died in 1990. “An Ozzie and Harriet family,” Burrus Jr. said, speaking of drive-in movie outings where dad made the popcorn.
Middle child Marcia Burrus Robinson remembers her mother baking all the time: banana bread, German sweet chocolate cake. She also recalled playing tag with neighborhood kids around the freshly hung laundry in her backyard.
“My mother would play tag with us,” Robinson said, adding that Myrtle, the next door neighbor, would cheerfully tease her mother: “You need to stop kissing those kids so much; they won’t have any skin left.”
During this time, Burrus, a devout Catholic, resumed her nursing career and spent four decades at Doctors Hospital.
“It was great having a mom as a nurse,” said Burrus Jr. “No matter what happens as a kid — being electrocuted on a telephone pole or cutting your toes off on a lawn mower — having a mom as a nurse meant no hysteria. ‘Let’s see if we can fix it, sew it back on.’ She was very calming.”
In addition to her son and daughter, Burrus is survived by her children Alison, Lisa and Peggy, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Visitation will be at 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at Van Orsdel, 4600 SW Eighth St., Coral Gables. Services at 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Mercy, 11411 NW 25th St., Miami. Donations in Burrus’ name can be made to Catholic Hospice, 13875 NW 77th Ave., Miami Lakes, Florida, 33016.