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Hugh F. Burgess Jr., McDonogh School English teacher and dean, dies

Hugh F. Burgess, Jr. was a published author, an outdoors enthusiast and a trumpet player.
Hugh F. Burgess, Jr. was a published author, an outdoors enthusiast and a trumpet player.

Hugh F. Burgess Jr., a former dean of faculty and revered McDonogh School English teacher, died of heart disease July 2 at Edenwald Senior Living in Towson. He was 91 and had lived in Timonium.

Born in Berlin, New Hampshire, he was the son of Hugh F. Burgess Sr., a Procter & Gamble plant manager and his wife, Clarice Towne, a high school Latin teacher. He grew up in Maine and Weymouth, Massachusetts and was a graduate of Weymouth High School.

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Mr. Burgess earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Colby College in 1952. He also had graduate degrees from the University of Massachusetts and Western Maryland College.

While a Colby student, he met his future wife, Anne Magee. She would later teach at McDonogh.

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He served in the army as a radar technician during the Korean War and served in the U.S. Army.

He taught at McDonogh School from 1957 to 1972 and then again from 1978 until his 1996 retirement.

His son, Jonathan Burgess, said his father wore his Army uniform to his initial job interview at McDonogh.

“It seemed to give him an air and McDonogh was then a military school,” his son said.

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Mr. Burgess taught at Manlius Pebble Hill School in Dewitt, New York and Collegiate School in New York City in the 1970s.

William Mules, retired McDonogh headmaster, said: “Hugh influenced generations of teachers. I had him as a student and knew him as a colleague. He was a delightful man. He hired teachers at McDonogh, nurtured them and weeded some of them out.

“He was a man of high expectations delivered in a velvet glove. He understood that teachers make mistakes and he had a real skill of saying to them, ‘Look at it this way,’” said Mr. Mules.

“Hugh had a streak of rebellion in him and that made him a great teacher,” said Mr. Mules. “There was a twinkle in his eye, a smile, a great sense of humor.”

When Mr. Burgess retired, Mr. Mules said in his remarks: “Hugh has reminded us that there is more, much more to school than SAT’s, number one rankings for athletic teams and the bottom line.”

In addition to teaching at McDonogh, Mr. Burgess was chair of the English department, dean of faculty and associate headmaster.

He was a long-time faculty advisor of the McDonogh publication, The Week, and active in the school’s cultural and athletic activities.

Ross Peddicord, a former McDonogh student who was later a Baltimore Sun reporter, said: “He was a guiding force in my life when I was working on the school paper. He was one of those brilliant teachers you encounter, strict without being unkind.”

“My father was a dedicated champion of McDonogh,” his son said. “He provided progressive vision and leadership in turbulent times as the boys’ semi-military school transitioned to a more diverse, all-gender, civilian educational institution.”

John Van Meter, a fellow McDonogh teacher said: “Hugh was a generous proponent of opportunity. He had a festive celerity of the imagination and his philosophy as an administrator was to make exceptions.”

In 1999 Mr. Burgess was honored with McDonogh’s Distinguished Service award.

“Teaching was his greatest passion, and he possessed an abiding belief in the value of literature, the arts and education for all,” his son said. “My father was energetic, curious, and active. His enthusiasms included sailing, boats of all shapes and sizes, fishing, tennis, skiing, poetry, music, photography and art.”

Mr. Burgess traveled extensively around the world and often visited other schools. He owned a cabin at Sebec Lake, Maine where he spent summers and also traveled to Penny’s Hill, North Carolina.

Friends said he remained a devoted enthusiast of the Maine woods.

He played the trumpet in community bands in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine and in Baltimore. A birder and kayaker, he supported the Marshy Point Nature Center in Baltimore County.

Mr. Burgess was a published poet, whose poetry collections include Dwell Within These Distances and Penny’s Hill.

He continued to compose and edit poetry throughout his life and prepared a new manuscript for publication shortly before his death, his son said.

He was also the author of two histories about McDonogh: McDonogh School: An Interpretive Chronology (with Robert Smoot) and McDonogh School, 1972-1997.

In retirement Mr. Burgess also researched the life of Col. William Allan, the founding principal of McDonogh School. His transcription of Allan’s diary with notes, The Post-Civil War Diaries (1872-1889) of Colonel William Allan, was published by McDonogh School.

In addition to his son, survivors include three other sons, Geoffrey Burgess of Brattleboro, Vermont, Douglas Burgess of Fallston and David Burgess of Rockville; a brother, John Burgess of Bernardston, Massachusetts; nine grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His wife of 67 years, who also taught at McDonogh, died in 2020.

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