Obituary: Thomas D. Burns of Boston’s North End / Waterfront

Burns, Thomas David (April 4, 1921 – February 27, 2016), trial lawyer and co-founding partner of the Boston law firm Burns & Levinson LLP passed away due to cancer. The son of Joseph Lawrence and Catherine Horne Burns, he was born in 1921 in Andover, MA. An avid skier, golfer and traveler, his two passions were his family and the practice of law. He attended local schools including Phillips Academy, Brown University and Boston University Law School, from which he graduated in 1943. In 1995 he received the Law School’s Award for Distinguished Professional Services.

During World War II, Mr. Burns served in combat as a naval officer in Europe and in the Pacific. He returned to Boston to pursue a legal career, having passed the bar while on active duty as a naval officer. He began as an associate at Friedman, Atherton, King & Turner in Boston. There, he met his life-long friend, colleague and future Burns & Levinson founding partner Lawrence M. Levinson who died in 2003. The firm was started in 1960 and grew rapidly. Mr. Burns became a renowned trial attorney, spending most of his time in the courthouse. During his long career he represented numerous national insurance companies, banks, manufacturers, and corporations, as well as law firms, newspapers, and colleges throughout New England. Until his last days, he went to the office nearly every day.

Esteemed by his colleagues who have noted his impact on the practice of law, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named him one of the state’s most influential lawyers. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) joined with Burns & Levinson LLP to establish the Thomas D. Burns Scholarship Fund. The fund honors his leadership in the legal community and funds participation in MCLE programs. He was appointed by Governor Francis Sargent to the Judicial Council of the Commonwealth and was appointed Vice Chairman of the Massachusetts Judicial Nominating Commission by Governor Edward King.

A member of numerous clubs and organizations he served as Chairman of the Judicial Selection Committee of the Boston and Massachusetts Bar Associations; Fellow, Massachusetts State Chairman, and Treasurer of the American College of Trial Lawyers; trustee of the American Textile History Museum; Advisory Board of WGBH-TV; trustee of The Pike School; and member of Phillips Andover Academy Alumni Council.

He is survived by his wife Marjorie Andrew Burns, and three of his four children: Wendy Conquest, of Hanover, NH; Lansing Burns, of Fairfield CT; and Poppy (Lisa) Burns, of New York, NY; as well as four grandchildren and two great grandchildren. He is also survived by two of his three sisters, Anne Laskey and Constance Silverman. He was predeceased by his daughter Diane (DeDe) Longley; his sister, Cathleen Elmer; and his brothers Joseph Burns, Donald Burns, and John Horne Burns, author of the World War II novel The Gallery.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Care Dimensions, 75 Sylvan Street, Suite B-102, Danvers, MA 01923.

2 Replies to “Obituary: Thomas D. Burns of Boston’s North End / Waterfront

  1. I knew Tommy for over thirty years and I will miss him greatly.
    Tom knew I was interested in literature and shortly after we first met he presented me with a copy of his brother’s book, The Gallery, one of the greatest books to come out of World War II. Tom worshiped his older brother, John Horne Burns, who graduated Harvard phi beta kappa and served in US Army intelligence during the war. John’s book is a series of nine vignettes which take place in the Galleria Umberto, not the pizza shop on Hanover Street but an enormous indoor shopping arcade in Naples. The Gallery was a finalist for the 1948 Pulitzer Prize in literature but lost to Michner’s book, Tales of the South Pacific probably because the topic of John’s book, homosexuality in the military, was too controversial for the time. John died in Florence in 1953 a lonely, forgotten man.
    Years later Tommy went to Florence to search for his brother’s roots. While sitting at an outdoor cafe’ next to the Ponte Vecchio a waiter approached him and told him he resembled a man they called “the professor” who used to sit at the same table. He was, of course, referring to Tom’s brother John. They talked for over an hour and Tom said it was one of the most memorable moments of his life.
    Rest in peace, Tommy.

    1. Dear Nick,
      Thank you for your truly wonderful words honoring my Dad and the amazing story of Dad and the Italian waiter as well as your praise for the Gallery.
      It is recollections of stories about my father that I will always treasure.
      With gratitude,
      Lansing Burns
      Fairfield, CT

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