Deborah Alyson Burrows, an activist who created a fund for children with autoimmune diseases, died of cancer Monday at her home in the Hampton section of Towson. She was 66.
Born in Philadelphia, she was the daughter of Ralph Jones, a salesman for road construction piping, and his wife, Blanche Patterson, a homemaker.
She moved to Timonium at an early age and lived on Pot Spring Road, attending Pot Spring Elementary School, Towsontown Junior High School and Dulaney High School, from which she graduated in 1970.
Ms. Burrows studied at the Bryman School in Towson to become a medical assistant and worked for a laboratory before moving into pediatrics with the Doctors Kramer, Goldstein, Andorsky & Seidman pediatric group in Owings Mills.
She met her future husband, David Charles Burrows, while in high school.
“I was engaged to another person, but I also knew Deb because we had been at so many events together,” her husband said. “We were on double dates and as it turned out, I discovered I really wanted to be with her. I broke off the engagement and married Deb.”
Recalling his wife’s medical career, he said she “enjoyed her job. She did the laboratory tests and X-rays. She worked well with patients.”
“Debbie was the brightest of the assistants we hired,” said Dr. Irving Kramer, a retired Pikesville pediatrician who lives in Silver Spring. “She was outgoing and pleasant. She knew what she was doing, and you never needed to tell her. … She [was] very perceptive. She was [an] unusual person who underwent negative experiences and still lived life to the fullest.”
Ms. Burrows was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition and spent weeks in hospitals, but always bounced back, family members said. After the death of their 9-year-old daughter, Ms. Burrows and her husband founded the Kendall Burrows Foundation. Kendall, her daughter, was diagnosed at age 3 and died of an autoimmune disease known as Evans syndrome in 1996.
The child required many blood transfusions, and Ms. Burrows worked closely with the American Red Cross. She also enlisted the help of hosts at local radio stations to urge volunteers to donate blood at Dulaney.
“Debbie was an inspiration,” Dr. Kramer said.
Said her husband: “She was the family matriarch and did all the organization. She was a great woman whom everyone loved.
“The loss of Kendall left a deep hole in Deb’s heart — along with the entire family. Her perseverance and dedication to her family brought about a new mission and the foundation of a foundation.”
After her daughter’s death, Ms. Burrows continued to advocate for a cure for autoimmune diseases and supported the Red Cross.
Ms. Burrows helped stage an annual event, Foot Loose, at the Padonia Park Club. The most recent event raised $70,000 for the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. In the past four years, she and her family raised more than $250,000, her husband said. She also met with physicians at the Hopkins Children’s Center and reviewed the work done there.
“Through their foundation, they have raised a substantial sum for our program. She and her whole family have made it possible for us to have palliative-care support specialists available to families with a child with serious illness,” said Dr. Nancy Hutton, professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and medical director of the Harriet Lane Compassionate Care program. “Our team is indebted to the work she did. Their gifts have been transformative for our program.”
Said her husband: “My wife was strong and unflappable in any circumstance. She also had her own medical issues and just a big fighter.”
Ms. Burrows spent her free time at Topsail Island, N.C., Cabo, Mexico, and Deer Valley, Utah.
“Deb was an amazing cook, baker, and just an all-around incredible homemaker,” her husband said. “When I would come home, there would always be a full dinner. Cooking was a delight for her. Her spaghetti sauce was well known. But she also made a fine veal marsala and chicken creole.”
Ms. Burrows was a skilled writer and composed an annual Christmas letter she mailed to nearly 250 recipients. She also wrote unpublished children’s books and created inspirational books for her grandchildren.
“She was the creative director in the family, and if you wanted things done the right way, you would always look to Deb,” her husband said.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave., where she was member
In addition to her husband of nearly 45 years, a manufacturer’s representative for furniture and textiles, survivors include a daughter, Kelly Carlin Reeves of Old Greenwich, Conn.; a son, Ryan David Burrows of Towson; a brother, Ralph Jones, and a sister, Pamela Freeman, both of Bradenton, Fla.; and two grandchildren.