William Burnley was passionate about education, helping others

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | 5:22 p.m. CDT; updated 10:37 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 22, 2013

COLUMBIA — William Custead Burnley's life was marked with love and serendipity from the beginning.

Mr. Burnley was born Oct. 16, 1942, in Meadville, Pa., to Gladys (Custead) Burnley and William Caldwell Burnley. However, he wasn't what his mother expected.

Mr. Burnley's mother was unaware she was pregnant with twins, Mr. Burnley's wife, Sally Burnley, said. After Mr. Burnley's twin sister was born the nurse exclaimed, "I believe there's someone else in there!" Sally Burnley said.

Mr. Burnley died Sunday, May 19, 2013. He was 70.

When he was 12 years old, Mr. Burnley and his family followed his father's work as a high lineman to Columbia.

He attended MU and worked in education for 30 years. 

Mr. Burnley and Sally (Headley) Burnley were married June 6, 1970, at the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia.

He taught industrial arts at Jefferson Junior High School and created the first industrial arts program to include girls. Mr. Burnley convinced the principal to allow female students to attend the class one day for the semester. It soon became a popular choice. The principal was forced to allow girls to take industrial arts and boys to take home economics, Sally Burnley said.

Mr. Burnley was known as the "fix-it guy." He worked with his hands, making bird houses and wind mills, Sally Burnley said. When neighborhood children came over he would build game boards for them and taught them how to play different games, she said.

"He was a teacher," Sally Burnley said, "So he taught what he learned."

He was well-known in his community for helping neighbors with their lawns and taking daily walks around the neighborhood.

On one of his walks he noticed an elderly neighbor who usually lifted her blinds in the morning hadn't done so. He notified her neighbors who found she had fallen during the night, Sally Burnley said.

"He touched a lot of lives," she said.

When he wasn't helping his neighbors, Mr. Burnley liked to spend his time playing tennis and badminton at Stephens College and MU with professors from the schools.

Mr. Burnley is survived by his wife, Sally; his children, Greg Burnley of Fulton, and Lisa Kudas and her husband, Matthew, of Richfield, Minn.; his twin sister, Deborah Burnley, of Columbia; and granddaughter, Emma Rose Kudas.

His parents died earlier.

The family will have a private service at their home from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Memorial donations can be made to DrumsForCures, in care of Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St. Columbia, MO 65201.

Condolences can be posted at

Supervising editor is Kate Moritz.

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