Gilbert Burnett
1925 - 2020
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Gilbert H. Burnett

August 7, 1925 - November 9, 2020

Wilmington

Gilbert Henry "Gill" Burnett, Retired Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial District of Wilmington, North Carolina, passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family, at the age of 95 on November 9, 2020. Gil was born on August 7, 1925, in Burgaw, North Carolina to the late John Henry and Ruth Deaton Burnett.

Gil was a 5th generation New Hanover County resident who was happiest with the salt spray on his face and the sea breeze in his hair. He enjoyed sailing, scuba diving, and photography both under and above the water. His love of the ocean came from spending summers at the Carolina Beach family cottage built by his parents in 1936. At age 12, Gil was a "carnival boy" on the boardwalk at Carolina Beach, where he began his successful snowball business. At the age of 18, he volunteered for the Army Air Corps (which became the US Air Force) and became a pilot of the B-25 Mitchell just before WWII ended. Shortly after WWII, Gil married Margaret Patricia Bolling from Winston-Salem, NC, and they had three children.

After the military, Gil enrolled in undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and in 1956 graduated from Wake Forest University Law School. While in law school, he was on the debate team and law review. After a successful law career in Wilmington, Gil was elected District Court Judge for New Hanover and Pender counties in 1968. He was later appointed Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial District by the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court, where he served on the bench for twenty-three years before his retirement August 1, 1991. One of his most ambitious projects as a judge was to help young offenders get on the right path and become productive citizens.

Gil was thankful for the numerous awards and recognitions that he received during his lifetime, including "The Order of the Long Leaf Pine" bestowed by Governor James B. Hunt, Jr. in 1984 and the "Lifetime Achievement Award" bestowed by StarNews Media in 2017. He was also recognized as "Tarheel of the Week" by the Raleigh News and Observer and was honored to receive the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Founder's Day Speaker of the House Award for Outstanding Public Servants and Community Leaders in 2015. His civic contributions and leadership involved bringing the USS North Carolina Battleship to Wilmington in 1961, becoming a founding member of WHET (Wilmington Harbor Enhancement Trust) in 1993, and founded the Community Service Work Program for the criminal justice system in the early 1980's which has now expanded nationally. Gil was a member of various organizations through the years, including QB or "Quiet Birdmen" (an organization of great pilots), the Navy League, the Wilmington Cotillion, the Wilmington Scottish Society and 50+ years with the US Power Squadron. Throughout his years, he enjoyed music, ballroom and jitterbug dancing, and traveling. He lived an adventurous and enterprising life resulting in many excellent stories, of which he was an equally excellent recounter.

Gil is survived by many in his family, including: his daughter, Betsy Benning (and husband Fleet) of Louisburg, NC; his daughter, Sandra Burnett, of Raleigh, NC; and his son, John Stephen Burnett, of Wrightsville Beach, NC; four grandchildren: Melanie Lark Benning of Raleigh, NC; John William Benning (and wife Anna) of Minneapolis, MN; Henry Burnett of Berlin, Germany; and Harry Burnett of Wrightsville Beach, NC; and one great-grandchild, John Theodore Benning of Minneapolis, MN. He is also survived by two siblings: Julian Burnett (and wife Vivian) of Wilmington, NC and Sylvia Burnett Crippen of Connecticut. He was preceded in death by his parents, his wife, Margaret Bolling Burnett (mother of his children), his sisters: Annetta Collins; Ruth Phillips; Phyllis Burnett; Mary Elizabeth Quaintence; Susie Jones; and his brother Jack Burnett.

The family has commissioned a sundial which has been placed outside the Ft. Fisher Aquarium in the vicinity of where Gil's great-great-grandfather raised free-range cattle in the early 1800's. A friend of Gil's in QB has volunteered to fly Gil's ashes into the "Graveyard of the Atlantic"; one of his last wishes was to be in the Gulf Stream on the way back to his ancestral Scottish roots.

A Celebration of Life gathering will be held in 2021 at the Hannah Block USO Center in Wilmington. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Burnett Thalian Association Community Theatre Preservation Fund ( www.thalian.org ) or Lower Cape Fear LifeCare ( www.lifecare.org ) in Wilmington, NC.

Shared memories and condolences can be made at www.harrellsfh.com.

A service of Harrell's Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Burgaw.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The News and Observer on Nov. 11, 2020.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
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13 entries
November 13, 2020
I remember Judge Burnett as a gracious Southern Gentleman who shared his good fortune and knowledge with others in so many ways. A special memory is of him whirling the ladies residing at the old Sir Walter Apartments around the dance floor at a special event for residents and the Children's Home of Oxford--hosted in Sisters Restaurant of the Old Sir Walter Hotel by his children, Sandra, Betsy and Stephen.
Losing a parent is never easy Sandra, Betsy and Stephen, regardless of age, but if you remember his laughter, love of life and his love for you, he will be with you daily. You continue in my thoughts and prayers. Alice Watkins
Alice W. Watkins
Acquaintance
November 13, 2020
Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. Remembering you and your loved one today and always. I was only 13 when my father, Roy Alexander Burnett Jr. passed away. Hold on to the memories of a great man
Harry Sherman Burnett
Family
November 13, 2020
Gil was a class guy! He was my escort in 1958 when I was Miss Wilmington. He was MC at several events.
To all his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren you are blessed to be a part of him and his life.
Love ❤ and Hugs,
DeAnn Estes Tschantz
DeAnn Tschantz
Friend
November 13, 2020
Gil was a special person in my life. In 1958 I was Miss Wilmington. Gil was my escort to several functions. He was also MC for several of the functions. He was a class guy! Look forward to seeing him in the afterlife.
To his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren I wish you only the best!! You are fortunate to be part of his life.
Love ❤ and Hugs,
DeAnn Estes Tschantz
DeAnn Tschantz
Friend
November 12, 2020
So sorry for your loss, Sylvia. Love, Allison Manuel
Allison Manuel
Friend
November 11, 2020
Hi, A message from the Isle of Man A small Island between Uk and Ireland “ The Pearl in the Irish Sea”
RIP Gilbert..what a good man. May his soul Rest In Peace.
I had the pleasure of meeting Gilbert firstly in UK, where he Sandra visited our small Shop / Catering Business he gave me some sound advise in relation to my business.
Second Time of meeting Gilbert was in Ireland in beautiful County Kerry. Along with my wife Helena again, had the pleasure of talking and listening to what sound words he said. A saying that was told to me many moons ago “Good Men Are Few” and in Gilbert’s case this Is True. Paul Helena Murphy
Paul.murphy
Friend
November 11, 2020
Kellie Burke Trivers
Friend
November 11, 2020
Gil generously allowed me to use his persona (somewhat) as protagonist Dan in my beach novel Tropical Depression.
anne russell
Friend
November 11, 2020
A true Southern gentleman and good friend since 1968 when we met as freshmen judges.

Phil Carlton, Pinetops, NC.

Phil Carlton
Friend
November 11, 2020
Gil was a sweet and generous man. My grandma would make him a grape hull pie yearly, until she passed. I enjoyed seeing him when I delivered it to him. We would often see each other at the Boardwalk. He was very helpful to me when I needed material for my Carolina Beach books. I will miss his smile and firm handshake.
Daniel Norris
Friend
November 11, 2020
I was privileged to know highly-accomplished Gil Burnett for a half-century. He was a man of many parts, from a large affectionate family which has contributed much to our community. We would do well to have more Judge Burnetts on the bench.
Anne Russell
Friend
November 10, 2020
Probably the best and most humble man I have ever known...thank you neighbor!
Brandon E Ham
November 10, 2020
Great man...He gave me a break when I was a young man...I will be forever grateful fir his trusting and fair judgement.
Thank you sir....
Arthur Norris
Acquaintance
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