Peter Burns - 2017 Person of the YearJun 01, 2017 ● By Allie Spletter
Peter Burns, Frisco STYLE’s 2017 Person of the Year, is Frisco’s very own version of a highly impactful character in a feel-good story. Originally from Jamaica, Mr. Burns would ultimately impact lives across the globe, many of which are in our own sweet community. Throughout the progression of his life, he has taken charge of his destiny, grown as a person, both personally and professionally, and has become an influential and integral part of the Frisco community. With a million-dollar smile and a calm, collected and quiet humility, Mr. Burns’ passion for life and leadership, as well as his desire to give back, is palpable and magnetic. Though the setting of the current chapter of Mr. Burns’ story is here in Frisco, it began on May 9, 1960, some 1,400 miles to the southeast in Kingston, on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
Born to Lincoln and Agatha Burns, Mr. Burns does not recall much from the humble beginnings of his early childhood, but remembers, without a doubt, that it was filled to the brim with family, church and school. Mr. Burns recalls having to take his shoes off after school or church to walk barefoot to the store or to play with friends, as he had only one pair of shoes for school and church and another for athletics and other activities. It was during those early days of not having much abundance that he learned the value of working hard and the importance of taking care of the things he had. Mr. Burns recalls, “Even though we did not have a lot, we had all we needed and never felt like we were missing anything. My first bicycle was built from scratch, part-by-part and piece-by-piece. I had to do odd jobs to get and save the money I needed to purchase each piece then assemble it.” From that moment, Mr. Burns remembers experiencing the feeling of accomplishment, which is a feeling he would not soon forget. “I remember a great feeling of pride in being able to do so, knowing I was able to build something like this … especially without YouTube, like kids have today,” he says jokingly. Throughout his adolescence, Mr. Burns continually sought to better himself with various projects and dreams that, in hindsight, became a testament to his ingenuity, problem solving and leadership skills. He shares, “My aunt bought me a couple of birds, so I set out to build a birdcage for them. I figured it was simple, since I was able to build my bike from scratch. However, no one told me I needed to build it in a way that would allow me to open the doors to feed them without allowing them to get away. One of the birds got away on my first feeding, right after placing the birds in the cage, which prompted me to seek the help of our neighbor who owned a woodshop. I received guidance in properly designing and building my next birdcage. I must say, it turned out to be a beautiful birdcage!”
In August 1972, after moving Mr. Burns and his three sisters and two brothers to the U.S., his parents made their new home in N.Y. This began the second chapter of their lives. Looking back on his younger years, Mr. Burns remembers them as fun and exciting ones that were ultimately deeply built on faith. The years would teach him lessons that would shape who he would become. “We had our challenges, like most kids, but we had a childhood rooted in Christ. Due to our faith, we knew there would be another day and did not dwell on issues we were facing at that moment. I think that mindset has kept me moving throughout my life and has allowed me to not dwell on things, good or bad, for too long.”
Throughout high school, Mr. Burns did not have a mentor who coached him through those important years, but he later formed a close relationship with the woman he would ultimately call his “second mom.” He shares, “She was the librarian at the New York District Attorney’s Office, where I worked right out of high school, as I took a couple of community college computer programming courses. She encouraged me to pursue my education. She, along with my mom and dad, followed me throughout my educational journey and continued to encourage me every step of the way. It was exciting for me to give her and my parents a call each time I accomplished a milestone. I considered and called her my second mom, and she and my parents helped me develop an understanding of service to others and the value of being a mentor to someone else.”
While working at the New York District Attorney’s Office, a U.S. Army recruiter constantly called his home, and he retrospectively attributes much of his decision to join the Army to that recruiter who did not give up on him. Mr. Burns eventually decided to join in October 1978, as he liked the benefits of serving in the Army, and left for boot camp February 28, 1979. He admits, “I did not have a sense of service until I joined and completed boot camp/basic training. I can truly say I grew up in the Army.” Mr. Burns attributes his success in his roles in the Army Signal Corps to a set of gifts from God that equipped him with the tools he needed to make a positive impact on the lives of the ones he served. During his time of service, Mr. Burns says some of the highlights of his career in the Army included being appointed to a team that worked with the country of Macedonia to help guide them into NATO and being appointed to serve as the senior enlisted advisor for communications for U.S. forces in Bosnia to help rebuild their country. “I have so much pride in the countless number of soldiers and officers I was able to lead in my career. Seeing them move on to have successful leadership careers in the military, and outside of the military, has been extremely rewarding,” he explains. “Some 20 years later, I retired as a first sergeant/E8 and had the opportunity to serve in multiple leadership positions throughout my career. Through this time, I learned the importance of service in my community and providing mentorship of our youth and young service members.” Mr. Burns admits his leadership roles during his Army career forced him to think outside the box, while remaining accountable for the success and safety of those he led. “For me, it taught me how to build a climate that allowed people to grow. As a result of that climate, those mentorship relationships grew, while still allowing them to flourish as individuals.” The learned importance of service and mentorship would later help Mr. Burns become a noted Frisco resident who serves as a leader and advisor for adults, students and children.
After earning his college degree (while enlisted), Mr. Burns and his wife, Dana, moved to Frisco, in 1999, after he retired from the Army and accepted a job offer with Alcatel-Lucent. Mr. Burns quickly began making a name for himself as he worked to better himself personally and professionally. In hindsight, he notes meeting his wife as one of his proudest and greatest accomplishments. Additionally, Mr. Burns is undoubtedly proud of his three children, Nadia, Jackie and Jamaal, all of whom attended college. His family is one of his greatest joys in life and it is evident they think the world of him, too. Mrs. Burns says, “My husband is incredibly patient and kind. I believe his God-given purpose in life is to serve and teach others in need. He is so incredibly passionate that he will sometimes forgo his own health condition to help others.” She continues, “During my husband’s journey, he has touched so many people in this community and beyond, including professionals, young and old, leaders, millionaires, clergy, students and more. He has remained humble in his interactions with them and never seemed to envy their status. His kids and grandkids love and respect him dearly and always enjoy his presence. My relationship with Peter has helped me become a better Christian, wife, mother, grandmother and friend. Also, his humbleness, kindness and devotion to others has reinforced my respect for him.” Mr. Burns’ daughter, Jackie, looks back on what she has learned from her father. “He has always taught me good values and never spoiled me by buying me all the things I wanted. He taught me that independence comes with responsibility, and he allowed me to learn that the hard way. He is a funny, cool, adventurous and smart human being. I look up to my dad because he is loyal and honest,” she shares.
Mr. Burns’ son, Jamaal, explains, “What makes my dad great is his determination and commitment to whatever he is involved in. I am never surprised at his success because I know he put the work in to get there.” Jamaal admits his father has always been a role model in his life, but he has only recently started understanding the impact his father has really made. He explains, “I have definitely always looked up to my dad, since I was a little boy, but only recently, after having come into my adult years, can I really put it into perspective. Over the past few years, I have truly understood what it means and takes to put your mind to a task, achieve that goal, set new goals, then repeat.” Mrs. Burns shares, “There are not many Frisco residents who do not know the name ‘Peter Burns.’ His name is synonymous with passion. I believe his passion has impacted Frisco deeply.”
Of the most profound experiences Mr. Burns has been through, he recalls the profession of his faith as a life-changing moment that helped shape him into the person he is today. He looks back, “My acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior and as the head of my life is a moment I will never forget. Even though I grew up in the church all my life, nothing to me was really clear until I accepted Christ. I can honestly say, without a doubt, that the Lord guides me throughout all the challenges I have faced in life.”
The values Mr. Burns has instilled in his children over the years have very much carried over into his professional life, as he has greatly impacted our community through his work and philanthropic endeavors. As his daughter, Jackie, describes him, Mr. Burns has always been a “math and science guy,” which he very much puts to use in his current work at Nokia as a business development and technical tendering manager. Mr. Burns’ role at Nokia allows him to work with the sales and internal technical team to develop business cases that support complex technical solutions and professional services for customers in North America.
Mr. Burns currently serves on the Frisco Public Arts board, the Frisco Chamber of Commerce board, the Frisco Education Foundation (FEF) and is a member of the Frisco Sunrise Rotary Club. He explains, “I serve as the chair of the FEF Mindbender Academy and as the program manager of the Frisco Young Entrepreneur Academy (YEA). Additionally, I am a past president of the FEF board and I had the opportunity serve as the chair of Leadership Frisco.”
In June 2016, Mr. Burns was named a runner-up for the Dallas Cowboys Community Quarterback Award that allowed the FEF to benefit from the $2,500 grant he won for his time volunteering for the nonprofit organization. Mr. Burns holds this honor near to his heart, given that the FEF benefitted from the prize that came with the runner-up award. Mr. Burns’ passion has long been in helping students understand the value of education, which has very much driven his volunteer work.
Mr. Burns’ daughter, Nadia, says, “My dad thrives on the fact that having a good education leads to opportunities for advancement and scholarships.” During his time at Alcatel-Lucent, he became involved in the Junior Achievement program and eventually became a coordinator, after realizing the students were seeking to better themselves in many ways. Looking back, Mr. Burns remembers a particular experience that, at the time, was challenging, but ultimately became one he is very much proud of. “I was invited to speak to a group of students in Dallas through Junior Achievement, and some of the students did not want to hear what I had to say. However, I kept speaking, trying to encourage them. Years later, one of those students earned ‘student of the year’ and acceptance to college,” he says. Mr. Burns continues, “That was confirmation for me to continue encouraging students whenever and wherever I found myself. I believe we all have a set of gifts from God that equips us with tools we need to make a positive impact on the lives of others and our community.”
Some 18 years after moving to Frisco, Mr. Burns is proud to call the city home and still marvels at just how special it is. “There is something beautiful about Frisco that you will not understand until you get involved in the community. It is truly the people you meet in and around the city that make it such a special place. It is a fast-growing city with a small town feel that is truly amazing, especially when you get involved and get to meet the folks in the community.” He continues, “I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful citizens who care about other people, especially about the success of our youth. There have been countless times I have reached out to members of our community to engage them with various issues and they stepped up with their time and resources on multiple occasions.” Mr. Burns’ son, Jamaal, agrees that Frisco is a special place. Though he no longer lives here, he always enjoys visiting. He says, “Opportunities to grow and learn for young kids seem to be great in Frisco, and my dad has helped a lot in that regard.” Mrs. Burns says, “Frisco has become a more diverse community and hopefully it will continue to thrive as others see the importance of listening to diverse ideas. We need to continue to reach out to others who do not look like us or share the same beliefs. I am proud to be a Frisco resident,” she says.
Mr. Burns views his role in the community as one of an informed citizen, mentor and leader. He hopes to leave a legacy of helping and service to the next generation of leaders who will develop a similar sense of community involvement. He explains, “I try my best to get others involved and informed, while building strong relationships and connections with others. Additionally, I enjoy working with other community and business leaders to have a positive impact -- especially programs that have a positive impact our youth.” Mrs. Burns believes her husband will leave a legacy of important values that allow people to grow and learn. She says, “I believe that Peter has created a social legacy of respect, courtesy, love and involvement for all to follow.” Mr. Burns’ daughter, Jackie, adds, “People can learn a great deal from my dad -- mainly that education is everything, and if you want to achieve anything in life, you can.” Jamaal believes the legacy Mr. Burns has begun to leave in the community is quite simple. He says, “People can learn compassion and commitment to serving others from my Dad.”
Mr. Burns loves to ski, a hobby he took up while in the Army, and enjoys spending time with Mrs. Burns, especially now that they are empty nesters. They revel in the fact that they can spend their time as they please. Mr. Burns shares, “My wife and I like to travel and eat out when we get the opportunity. We both spend time serving in our church, Friendship Baptist Church of The Colony, where I am a deacon and youth director. Mrs. Burns adds, “My husband and I believe in faith, family and friends. Besides our full-time jobs, we spend time at our wonderful church, we attend community events, movies and social outings with friends. Time with our kids and grandkids is absolutely important and motivating, and we love traveling to places we have never been before.”
As for his plans for the future, Mr. Burns looks forward to retirement with his wife. He explains, “I truly do not have any specific plans I could share right now. However, I would hope in the future that my wife and I will be retired enjoying a nice, long vacation together. That would give me the opportunity to think about the next chapter of my life.”
The themes of faith, family, success and servitude have highlighted every chapter of Mr. Burns’ life and have helped him become the community leader and well–known neighbor and friend he is today. His life and work are a testament to how truly impactful one person can be when they selflessly seek to do the most good for others in the name of the Lord. Whether his focus lies in taking care of his family, mentoring youth or volunteering his time around the community, Frisco’s history book is that much richer from having his name and story in it. As he continues to write his story and make cameos in countless others’ stories, Mr. Burns does not see any bit of it as work. He concludes, “I feel I am just paying it forward. It feels good to serve our community and young people as they pursue their goals. I believe we must pour into our youth today to help position themselves for success in the future.”