(We lost our remarkable Denver Icon, Joy Burns, on July 17, 2020)
If you want to pay tribute to someone in Colorado who has a true pioneering spirit, Joy Burns is the perfect honoree. Joy, one of Denver’s most looked up to and respected leaders, was a founding member of The Women’s Bank, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, and the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Joy also was the first woman to chair the Denver Metro Convention Visitors and Business Bureau and was the only woman to receive a gubernatorial appointment to the Metropolitan Football Stadium Board.
It’s also evident that Joy is deeply committed to woman’s economic independence and many of her philanthropic efforts have been directed towards women’s causes.
Joy is most proud of the work she has done with the University of Denver and considers it a lifetime passion. Spanning over 30 years is Joy’s devotion and service to the University of Denver. She is a benefactor of both the Joy Burns Ice Arena at the Daniel L. Ritchie Wellness and Sports Center - and of the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management and at the Burns Plaza at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts.
Since 1973, she has been a longstanding member of the DU Women’s Library Association. In 1976, she was a founding member of the DU Pioneer Sportswomen, its president in 1979, and Joy was a true pioneer in providing active leadership and financial support for the growth and success of women’s athletics at DU. She joined the University of Denver Board of Trustees in 1981 and Mrs. Burns has served as Chairman of the Board since 1990.
In 1997 Joy was inducted into the University of Denver Sports Hall of Fame. She is also a founding member of the DU Chancellor’s Society.
Joy has always enjoyed participating in sports - either hands-on or as a spectator/fan. Joy actually met her late husband Franklin during a golf tournament at the Cherry Hills Country Club. Joy’s beloved husband, Frank, passed away on August 10, 1997, and Joy says: “I still miss him everyday of my life…”
Joy is well known for her integrity, teamwork, and her good business sense. She has often been asked to take on the role of advisor, manager and coach for such hard-hitting projects as the construction of Invesco Field and the redevelopment of the prestigious Burnsley Hotel. Mrs. Burns is the President of the Burnsley as well as the D.C. Burns Realty and Trust.
Always showing her fun side, Joy says: “I’m way busier than I wanna be.” More than likely, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Joy Burns is a genuine gift to our community and has made such a vital impact with her distinguished work, dedication, and abounding accomplishments.
What charitable event do you really look forward to attending each year? I’m going to keep myself out of trouble on this one because there really are so many wonderful charitable events in this city every year. They are all very important and speak to the quality of life we have in this city.
At one time, for a number of years, I would have said, “The Carousel Ball” for Children’s Diabetes. It’s not here now, and I don’t go to L.A. to attend it, but it was always the one – for a lot of years - I looked forward to - as long as Barbara & Marvin Davis had it here. My own personal feeling is that it was “the best of the best” as far as fundraisers; and we’ve got a lot of very good ones right now, but I don’t think any of them have stood out quite like “The Carousel Ball” did. But, I really do look forward to several events here each year.
Being active in sports all your life, what are some of your favorite leisure time or sports activities? Good question. In some cases my work is my leisure time. I enjoy so much of what I do. As far as participating in sports, I don’t do too much now. I used to play a lot of tennis. I’m pretty much now a spectator. I try to do some walking and get some biking done in the summer time – but not nearly enough. Football is my number one love as far as watching the Broncos play, and I do like gymnastics and hockey.
What do you consider your proudest achievement? The one thing that I’m proudest of is having been a part of a group of people that worked so hard for 25 years to turn the University of Denver around. When I first was involved with the Board, I didn’t know how financially troubled the university was. To have had the opportunity to be part of a board of Trustees and work with others within the administration, such as Dan Ritchie, and those who have been involved in the leadership of the university I think this is my biggest accomplishment. To see where we were in 1981, versus where we are today as a university, it’s there to see.
I know where I have spent my time; the way the time has been used, and where I have spent every penny I could afford to give to the university – it’s just a good feeling that you have been a part of something, one of many who have been able to make a difference, in an institution of higher education. To know that a lot of people will benefit is the best feeling.
I think a lot of times people spend their life building companies and don’t have the opportunities to work with people with a common purpose and commitment to turn things around, and we did it. The University of Denver is one of the best universities in the country today – and continues to get better. This has given me the most satisfaction, and being able to work along side of these people has been such a wonderful experience.
If I weren’t Joy Burns, I’d like to be -------? I have enough trouble being me! (laugh) There are an awful lot of people out there that I admire tremendously; I’m pretty happy with who I am, I don’t know if I want to be anyone else. As I said, there are a lot of people I admire, men and women as well, but I’m so happy being me - I don’t think I want to take a chance being someone else…
Do you have a favorite vacation spot? Frank and I traveled so much for the first few years after we got married that I got a little tired of traveling. Then I got busy working and doing things on the home front. There are just so many beautiful places to go when one wants to get away from it all. I think as far as the spot that I enjoyed most through the years, it is probably the southern part of Spain; it’s so beautiful and so quiet, and I just loved it. If I had a month on my hands, I’d probably go to Spain.
If you were to write an autobiography, what would the title be? I have no idea, and I don’t think I ever want to face that issue, because I don’t think I’m ever going to write an autobiography – I’m sure… I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read the story of my life.
Is there a magazine or publication you can’t live without? I like to read the Denver Business Journal. I really look forward to reading it; it comes on Friday and that usually gives me some time to read it over the weekend.
What is your fondest childhood memory? The time I spent with my maternal grandmother when I was growing up. She was really my best buddy, and I could just sit for hours with her and hear her telling me stories, and travel with her; that’s what I remember the most – we were real pals. She was quite a woman, and I admire her a great deal.
What is something your parent’s taught you that you have never forgotten? I suppose from a very early age in life, there were three of us, I had an older brother and a younger sister, and I remember my Dad saying on more than one occasion that we had to learn to take care of ourselves. He was always reminding us we had to study hard and make good grades in school because one day, we would have to take care of ourselves, and I suppose that’s probably the one thing that gave me that certain feeling of independence I’ve always had. That at some point in my life, I’m going to be my own responsibility, and I better darn well know how to take care of myself.
It’s always stuck with me, and I remember him saying that it’s the parents’ responsibility to see to it that their children are educated the best they can be, and after that you’re on your own, - you’re out the door. But I always knew that my parents were there for me if I needed it. I’m grateful my Dad did this for us. It’s helped make me who I am.
Do you have a quote or saying that has helped guide you through life? Not mine personally, but “The harder I work, the luckier I get….” I really do think that good things happen to you when you are out there working hard trying to make something good happen for yourself and others. I truly do believe that. Also a guide for me is I really try to always work on being a good person – sometimes you have to stop and think about it and make sure you are really remembering to do that.
What is something you absolutely can’t live without? My two little Westies. Now I have “Magic” and “Joanne” (I call her Joey); they are so precious. I just don’t think I could get through the day without having a Westie in my life. Their lives are short most of the time; they don’t have a lot of time to be with us, but I just know that I have to have them around. They are sweethearts. I do love my pets so much, you truly get attached. When I lost the last ones, I just couldn’t stand to walk into the house without a furry friend to greet me. I don’t have children, and they are like my kids. I really believe that anyone that does love and appreciate our four-legged friends is a better person themselves.
Where is your focus these days? The University of Denver is #1 on my list. Not just being on the Board, there are about nine or ten committees that meet regularly, and I try to attend most of those meetings. I still serve on the Board of the Colorado Convention & Visitors Bureau, which at one time I was extremely involved with. The Sports Women of Colorado, which is an organization that awards young girls and women in the state for their outstanding achievements in whatever sports they excel in. These are the ones that keep me the busiest. Sometimes I‘ll go on a committee to work for a specific purpose or function. But everyone knows my main love is The University of Denver!
What is your greatest strength? Probably my patience. I’m a very patient individual. And, how I deal with my anger. I try never to respond to something when I’m upset or angry. I really like to give it some time before I deal with it, so I’m not emotionally upset about things. I keep myself out of trouble that way. I find if I try to deal with something when I am upset, I say something I wish I hadn’t said. I try hard not to say things I can’t take back.
What is your greatest weakness? My, my, my – I probably have a lot of those (we laugh)…. One of my biggest weakness is I find it hard to understand why people sometimes don’t take advantage of opportunities to make a difference and don’t want to deal with doing something good. They always make excuses. I don’t respond to that real well. Also, people who always think it’s somebody else’s fault. They get by with it; it works for them. In the business world, I have no patience for someone who says, “It’s not my job,” I really have to walk away from that. I just think when someone needs help within your company; you do what you can to help.
A dear friend of yours said you are his hero, and he admired you more than anyone because of your values and wisdom – and because you always do the right things for the right reasons - and for the way you treat people. Isn’t that a fabulous compliment? How do you feel about being so admired? I’ll tell you what; that is probably the highest compliment a human being can get. To think that another human being can think that highly of them. Yes, I know who you are talking about, and I have to tell you, it’s kind of a mutual feeling. I’m very fond of the young man, and I’d do anything in the world for him. We have worked closely together for many years. I would also say, to go through life, and just have one person feel that way about you is success; because we do the things with our lives in hopes that other people will understand and accept it as something that is making it better for someone else. Yes, that is the highest compliment anyone could ever, ever give you.
What do you still want to learn how to do? I’d like to learn how to ice skate, but that’s not going to happen. I’m constantly learning something all the time, so there is no specific thing that comes to mind right now. I know, I’d like to be a little more astute on the computer. Learn more about how it functions, know what to do when things don’t work right – instead of waiting for someone to come and get me out of trouble!
You have been so involved with the University of Denver, in general, are you happy with the direction our educational system is going? I don’t know that I’m happy with the direction it’s going. I’m happy with the fact that I see so many people who are aware of the fact that there are definitely some major problems in our educational system that need to be corrected. And they seem to be working very hard to see if we can’t come up with some of those answers.
We do have a lot of problems. Not just with lower level education, it’s higher education as well. It concerns me tremendously how expensive education has become. It’s the one thing I feel we should, as taxpayers be able to give to young people. I just don’t think we are doing a very good job right now – because it is so expensive, and there aren’t enough dollars to do the things that need to be done.
Going right back to faculty salaries, I don’t know where you start to make it right. I think the cost is one of the issues that are driving all of us to come up with some answers. As a country, as a nation, we do owe our children a good education – a public education, and I don’t think they are getting that. Until teachers are paid what they need to be paid to make a decent living, we might not get the best people wanting to go into the profession – it’s a major problem. We do have some extremely qualified people who are certainly on top of it trying to find some answers. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. Education should be the number one issues, if not pretty darn close – next to health care. They are both equally important.
What should we all be working on these days to make our country better for future generations? Well, I guess I think we could all do better to try a little harder to work together instead of being against one other and believing that everyone else is wrong. I don’t think we work together enough as people; we focus too much on what we personally think is right.
I believe we need to be concentrating on the issues that we need to be working and focusing on, whether it’s education – or whatever it is, and try to find ways to make it better, rather than complaining about the way it is. Now days, it seems like so many people have an opinion, that we can’t all seem to agree with each other so instead we work against each other. We need to use that energy working together; I don’t know how we bring people together, but every time you pick up a newspaper, or turn on the TV, there is so much time and energy spent and lack of focus on what we really need to do verses focusing on something that may not be right - even like the war in Iraq, regardless of why we are there, or should we, should we not be - we are there.
We need to focus on what we should do as a group of people trying to work together to get our boys home, and quit being so disrespectful of those we choose to lead us. They are in a different position, and they know more than we do. We may not like their style or anything about them, but they are the ones in the position of leadership, and if we want to succeed, we have to support them to help them to accomplish what needs to be done. I don’t think that is something we Americans do very well. Regardless how you feel about this President, or any President that has ever been in office, they are the person we need to support. Even if you can’t support them, don’t try to tear down what they are trying to do, because that’s clearly what the enemy wants you to do, they want turmoil in this country with the people fighting amongst themselves. That’s just one example; we don’t work together enough as a group of citizens.
It’s a tough one I know, and I don’t have a solution obviously, but as individuals you do the best you can, and you hope you are doing the right thing. I want to see us come home, so what do we need to do to get our boys home.
How do we get our young people interesting in charitable work and giving back to the community? I’m sure that there are some better answers than the one I’m going to give you, but I personally don’t know what they are.
The thing I know you can keep trying to do is be a “role model” for them and encourage and take them along with you as much as you can, and little by little get them involved and get them to help you with some of the work you are doing. I think that goes back to the parents or other adults who will take the initiative to try to get the young people involved, and I don’t know any other way we are going to do it unless it’s lead by example.
We need to get to know our young people and explain to them why we are involved in charitable work, and why it’s important that we do it, and why it’s important for them to do it too. We have to keep stressing how important it is to the community. Parents are the ones that need to be the role models and show that you can certainly give of your time as well as money.
How would you like to be remembered by future generations? I think I’d like to be remembered by future generations just like my buddy, Steve Edmonds, talked about: “Doing the right things for the right reasons, and for the way I treated people.” That’s a pretty good way to be remembered, isn’t it?
Joy’s Charitable & Community Involvement: Among others: The Colorado Neurological Institute, Third Way Center, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Arapahoe House, Denver Brass, Denver Metro Chamber, The Children’s Diabetes Foundation and numerous University of Denver community programs.
Awards & Recognitions: Nationally, Joy served on the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Advisory Committee and on the President’s National Republican Women’s Coalition. Joy has received numerous awards for her public service, including the prestigious Benjamin F. Stapleton Jr. Award, Induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000, the Denver & Colorado Travel Industry Hall of Fame, and Joy recently was the recipient of the 2005 Josef Korbel Humanitarian Award.