Gordon Burns Cooper died on Oct. 17, 2020. Burns was born on Jan. 28, 1961, in Morristown, New Jersey, the third son in a family of displaced Texans, while his father was studying for a Master of Sacred Theology, during the snowiest winter in New Jersey history. This set the pattern for his life: Burns became an academic, and he eventually settled in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Burns grew up in Dallas and graduated from Highland Park High School. He won a scholarship to Yale University and he took a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1991, he accepted a faculty appointment at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he remained for the rest of his career, teaching literature, English and linguistics. He became a professor and served as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts. His colleagues note that calm authority, constant encouragement and trademark good humor characterized his teaching.
Burns loved music and words. He was a clarinetist and a poet. He wrote books and poetry and music. He hated parties, but he loved doing things with his friends. He made life-long friends over Dungeons & Dragons, he played klezmer in the band Almost A Minyan, and he hiked all over Alaska. He continually remade himself, trading biking for skiing, becoming a woodworker and a dog lover, and moving from English poetics to forensic linguistics over his research career. He studied in Mexico and Scotland and York, England, where he took a M.Sc. in forensic speech science, with distinction. He had a dry, sharp sense of humor, and he had no trouble making fun of himself, but he was unfailingly kind to the people around him.
He met Sandra Leigh Boatwright in 1991, when she arrived in Fairbanks for a one-year teaching job. On the basis of a bad driver's license photo, Burns insisted on picking Sandra up at the airport, so he could meet her before anyone else. They married in 1993, to the surprise and relief of both their families, and they spent the next 27 years and 9 months loving each other and having a pretty good time. They traveled and worked and made a good life in Alaska for themselves and their friends.
Burns was preceded in death by his brother-in-law, James Scott Boatwright, and he is survived by his wife, Sandra; her parents, Bob and Joy Boatwright, of Bristol, Virginia; his parents, Bob and Shirley Cooper, of Dallas, Texas; his brothers, Glenn (and wife Liz), of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and Gary (Blair), of McAllen, Texas; and his nephew, Robert Cooper (Katie), of Chicago, Illinois.
Thanks to our Houston cousins, Media and Steve Nazarenus, for taking us in when we were treatment refugees. Thanks to Uncle Arlen and Shirley K. Burns, who took care of us during our Seattle stay and fielded many phone calls. Thanks to our Fairbanks and Dallas friends for being stalwart friends and for supporting us through Burns' illness.
Thanks to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital Hospice Services for your help and kindness in these last weeks.
A celebration of Burns' life will be held at a later date, when face-to-face gatherings are reasonable again.
The G. Burns Cooper Memorial Fund will support young faculty researchers at the University of Alaska. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to this fund at engage.alaska.edu
(indicate "for G. Burns Cooper Memorial Fund" in the comments section) or by contacting the University of Alaska Foundation at email@example.com
Arrangements are entrusted to Chapel of Chimes.