GAMBIER — Robert D. Burns, of Seminole, Florida, and previously of Gambier, passed away May 1, 2019, at the age of 90.

Born in Detroit and raised in Royal Oak, Michigan, he developed an early passion for photography and ornithology. Burns earned his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. at Michigan State University. He began his early career as a professor of zoology at the University of Oklahoma where he met and married his wife Jeanette of 59 years.

In 1963, he took a position at Kenyon College. Specializing in animal behavior and ecology, “Doc” Burns eagerly shared his passion for the natural world with his students (and family), often with a unique and dramatic flair. He loved his country home and the surrounding woodlands where he often held class. Long before organic farming and sustainable agriculture were popular, he planted and raised much of the food provided for his family. Heavily involved in community activities and organizations, Burns was named Knox County Big Brother of the Year in 1987. On campus, he was known for his devoted service as faculty adviser to Delta Tau Delta fraternity, whose alumni created a scholarship in his honor in 2010. At his retirement from the college in 1992, Burns was awarded emeritus status and an honorary doctor of science degree.

He is survived by his wife, Jeanette Burns of Seminole, FL; his brother, James Burns of Cincinnati; two children, Robert (Lynn) Burns of Fredericktown and Cyndy (Kevin) Weeks of Carrboro, NC; and six grandchildren, Katie (Burns) Behrendt, David Burns, Molly Burns, Ahna Weeks, Elle Weeks and Gillian Weeks.

A celebration of life will be held at Kenyon College Sept. 28, details to be announced.

Memorial contributions can be directed to the Robert D. Burns Scholarship Fund or to the Brown Family Environmental Center at

Submitted by Cyndy Weeks.


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