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Charles Sidney Burrus
1934 - 2021
Charles Sidney Burrus
October 9, 1934—
April 3, 2021
Charles Sidney Burrus was born in Abilene, TX, on October 9, 1934, son of Charles Hooker Burrus and Aleta Virginia Hunter Burrus (Huffman) and older brother of Jack Sanford Burrus. He brought his long and rich life to an end in Houston, TX, on April 3, 2021. Sidney grew up in McKinney, TX, a notably happy and inquisitive child nurtured by gentle and tolerant parents. His father died when Sidney was just 14, and Sidney's resilience and confidence in shouldering increased family responsibilities were harbingers of later gifts for leadership and administration. His love of building things (whether go-carts and cars, as a teenager, or ham radios, harpsichords, and institutions later in life) derived from an intense curiosity about how things worked, and it is no surprise that he was drawn to study engineering and applied mathematics when he enrolled at Rice University. But he was never narrowly focused: in high school he played saxophone in a dance band and briefly considered a career as a professional musician; he also played football and remained physically active throughout his life, a force to be reckoned with on the squash court into his 80s. Deeply sociable, he loved people, parties, and conversations. Intellectually wide-ranging, he was a natural researcher both in and beyond his own field (the history and philosophy of the Enlightenment was a particular passion later in life), and he was powerfully drawn to the adventure and novelty that travel afforded. For Sidney, to be alive, learning, and thinking in the company of others was a great joy.
Sidney began dating Mary Lee Powell Burrus in junior high school (where his mother was their math teacher), and they wed ten years later in 1958. In 62 years of marriage, Sidney and Mary Lee, both notably independent spirits, shared adventures and domestic life. Their first child, Virginia, was born in 1959 in Houston, where Sidney was in graduate school and Mary Lee was teaching; their second child, Charlie, was born in 1961 in Connecticut, where Sidney was stationed in the Navy. They moved to California for three years while Sidney completed his PhD at Stanford, and by 1965 they were back in Houston, where they sank deep roots and remained for the rest of their lives, in a context shaped profoundly by Rice University and Covenant Church; Sidney especially appreciated the latter for its openness to rigorous intellectual exploration of theological topics.
Sidney's devotion to Rice was notorious. Completing bachelors and masters degrees there, he returned 5 years later as an Assistant Professor and never left. Winner of numerous awards for his teaching, scholarship, and service, he thrived both professionally and personally in the university setting, where he served as Magister of Lovett College, Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Electrical Engineering, Chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Director of the Computer and Information Technology Institute, Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering, and Senior Strategist for Connexions (Openstax). Near the end of his life, Ann and John Doerr honored him by establishing the C. Sidney Burrus Chair in the School of Engineering. He cherished his work and relationships in the larger world of Digital Signal Processing and Electrical Engineering as well, receiving the Jack S. Kilby Medal, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE)'s top honor in signal processing, in 2009. He was a reluctant retiree and remained active in the Rice community. The last class he taught was his classic DSP course in spring of 2020, adapting with characteristic enthusiasm to the pandemic-induced challenges of online instruction.
Sidney was consistently drawn to opportunities to broaden his experience and understanding of the world. A sabbatical year in Germany in 1975-76 was particularly transformative, and by the time he was 85 Sidney had traveled to some 65 different countries, including 9 trips to India, 5 to Pakistan, and 7 to China. He kept lists of every country he had ever visited and every trip he had taken, of every car, motorcycle, and computer he had owned and every address he had lived at. All of these were in some sense measures of his life's passages. His last major trip was to Georgia and Armenia with Charlie, Virginia, and Virginia's husband Glenn, in the summer of 2019. His last car was an electric BMW i3, which he loved for its technology, elegance, and eccentricity. His last address was the Brazos Towers retirement community in Houston, where caring friends offered especially significant support after Mary Lee's death in 2020, a loss that Sidney grieved deeply. Yet he retained a ready grin, wink, and twinkle in his eye—a capacity to find even the approach of death "interesting"–to the end.
Sidney is celebrated and mourned by many, especially by his two children, Virginia Burrus and Charles Hendrix Burrus, and their spouses, Glenn Peers and Carol Hendrix Burrus, and by his four grandchildren, James Burrus Kelly, Mary Burrus Kelly, Evan Hendrix Burrus, and Claire Hendrix Burrus. For information about the virtual memorial service, please go to https://www.gatheringus.com/memorial/charles-sidney-burrus/7114 .