Franklin Burgess (1935–2010)

Arkansas native Franklin Burgess earned All-American honors in basketball at Washington State’s Gonzaga University and played professionally before going on to a successful career as a lawyer and judge.

Franklin D. Burgess was born on March 9, 1935, in Eudora (Chicot County) to Morris and Ollie Burgess. Burgess attended Eudora Colored High School and then spent one year at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal College (AM&N), which is now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, before joining the U.S. Air Force. After his discharge in 1958, he entered Gonzaga University. By this time, he and his wife, Treava Burgess, had twin daughters, so Burgess focused on the school’s academic offerings as well as its basketball program. He earned a BA in education while also making his mark on the basketball court.

Burgess led the nation in scoring, with over thirty-two points a game during the 1960–61 season while also earning consensus second-team All-American honors. As of 2018, his number (44) is one of only two Gonzaga numbers to be retired—National Basketball Association (NBA) star John Stockton has the other. While at Gonzaga, Burgess was also elected class president. Although drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers following his senior year, he instead chose to play for the Hawaii Chiefs of the upstart American Basketball League. When the league ceased operations after two years, Burgess returned to Gonzaga, where he earned a law degree from the university’s School of Law in Seattle in 1966.

After serving as a legal intern with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1966 to 1967, Burgess left the AEC to become assistant city attorney in Tacoma, Washington. In 1969, he entered into a partnership with experienced attorney Jack Tanner, an arrangement that would last until Tanner’s elevation to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in 1978. Burgess worked in private practice from 1969 to 1980. In addition, Burgess served as judge pro tem in the Tacoma Municipal Court from 1971 to 1980, as well as judge pro tem in the District Court of the State of Washington in Pierce County during that same period.

In 1980, Burgess accepted an appointment as regional counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Seattle. He served in that capacity until 1981, when he became the U.S. magistrate for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. In 1993, he was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as a judge in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, where he succeeded his old law partner, Jack Tanner. After the requisite Senate consideration, Burgess was confirmed and took his seat in March 1994. In March 2005, he assumed senior status.

Long active in the community, Burgess worked with Habitat for Humanity and also served as president of the Tacoma branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In addition, he was a member of the Board of Regents at his alma mater, Gonzaga.

Burgess died of cancer on March 26, 2010. He was survived by his wife of more than fifty years and their four daughters and one son.

For additional information:
Broom, Jack. “Gonzaga Star Judge Franklin Burgess a Genuine Legend.” Seattle Times, March 27, 2010. Online at http://old.seattletimes.com/html/obituaries/2011460841_burgessobit28m.html (accessed April 6, 2018).

“Franklin D. Burgess (1935–2010).” BlackPast.org. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/burgess-franklin-d-1935-2010 (accessed April 6, 2018).

“Franklin Burgess Dies at 75; Gonzaga Basketball Star Became Federal Judge.” Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2010. Online at http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/28/local/la-me-franklin-burgess29-2010mar29 (accessed April 6, 2018).

Obituary of Franklin D. Burgess. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/spokesman/obituary.aspx?n=franklin-d-burgess&pid=141420982 (accessed April 6, 2018).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 02/17/2020