Monday, October 04, 2004

Ex-Iowan Harry Burrus Writes About His Father

This goes back a while, when one of the things I was doing
was writing about tennis players.

Tennis players are among my favorite people on this earth. Regardless of how well or how poorly they play, they always have something to say.

And every writer, of course, likes it when people have something to say.

One of the tennis players I enjoyed writing about was a guy named Burrus.

When I wrote about him as a player, he was Hari Burrus. Now he’s Harry Burrus.

“For many years, I went by Hari,” Burrus told me in an e-mail the other day. “That was because my grandfather and father were also Harry [my middle name is different from theirs].”

Burrus had written to me because his father, Harry C. Burrus Jr., died at 83 in Winter Haven, Fla.

More on Harry C. in a minute.

“Early on, there was confusion when we both entered singles, the tournament thinking there had been a double entry,” young Harry explained. “So I decided upon Hari. I thought Harry was too old-fashioned.

“Plus, I wasn’t the Jr. [my father was] and people assumed I was. I kept Hari for 25 years and only went back to Harry in 1989 – liking the idea of its tradition.

“So, my first book has Hari Burrus, the others have Harry Burrus.”

Books? Yes, books.

Harry Burrus writes books.

Very interesting books.

One that got my attention when Harry mailed it to me had photographs of naked [well, mostly naked anyway] women in it.

Harry always knew which books to send me.

“The first book was ‘I DO NOT SLEEP WITH STRANGERS: Confessions of a Tennis Pro,’” Burrus said.

“That one has a photo of topless sunbathers in France on the cover—which reflects a different attitude towards the body and philosophy about life.”

I’ve visited France several times. Yes, there are different attitudes toward the body and a different philosophy about life there.

Burrus listed his other books as “A GAME OF RULES,” “BOUQUET” “WITHOUT FEATHERS,” “THE JAGUAR PORFOLIO: Poems Retrieved, “FOR DEPOSIT ONLY: Selected Poems 1960-75 [which covers poems written as a sophomore in high school through Racquet Club West in West Des Moines], and the last was “CARTOUCHE:”

“Poetry is not a big mover—few people read poetry,” Burrus said.

Of his father, Harry Burrus wrote this:

Harry C. Burrus Jr.

Athlete, Educator, Coach
6 April, 1921-20 Sept., 2004

A Texan Returns

Dr. Harry Clifton Burrus, a third generation Texan, died in Winter Haven, Florida on September 20, 2004. His remains will be returned to Lubbock, Texas, where his parents and grandparents are buried. His father, Harry Sr., ran the Burrus Grocery for over 18 years in the 40s and 50s on 1010 Avenue U. in Lubbock.

Harry C. Burrus Jr., born in Slaton, Texas, graduated from Big Spring (TX) High School at 15 in 1936 and only played one year of high school football. However, at Hardin-Simmons in the early 40s, he was All-Conference and won Little All-America honors. He also lettered in basketball and tennis. His senior year, the spring semester of 1942, he married Wilma Norene Gravis, a member of the Hardin-Simmons Cowgirls, on April 10. He was inducted into the Hardin-Simmons Hall of Fame in the mid-80s.

Burrus was a member of the First Army Air Force Team, the Randolph Field Ramblers, that were National Champions in 1944. Shortly after, he starred on the Fort Worth Skymasters. After graduation from Hardin-Simmons and completing military service, he attended Columbia in New York, where he obtained his Masters and Doctorate. While attending Columbia, he played three years of pro football with the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers in what was then the All America Conference, the antecedent to the NFL. In one game, Burrus intercepted three of Otto Graham’s passes.

Dr. Burrus moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1949 to become a professor at Washington University. He was also a member of the football coaching staff. In the late 50s, he became Athletic Director and greatly increased the number of varsity sports and enhanced WU’s intercollegiate competition. He and Wilma Burrus created the Sports Skill School, a camp for elementary students that introduced them to archery, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, basketball and track.

Dr. Burrus was active in St. Louis tennis and was instrumental in creating the Dwight Davis Tennis Center. He was frequently highly-ranked in singles and doubles. For many years, he was involved with junior development and ranking for the Missouri Valley Tennis Association. He frequently hit and worked with the young Jimmy Connors. Dr. Burrus was responsible for bringing Arthur Ashe to St. Louis in 1960 for Ashe’s senior year of high school and arranging for him to stay with Richard Hudlin.

Dr. Burrus and his wife, Wilma, left St. Louis in the summer of 1966 and moved to Fairfield, Iowa, where they both were professors at Parsons College. Dr. Burrus also coached the Parsons College tennis team and was particularly active in Iowa tennis. He played National Father and Son Tennis in the late 60s and early 70s and, at one time, World Tennis Magazine listed him and his son number two in the United States.

In June of 1973, Dr. Burrus moved to Florida to become a tennis pro full time. He had the highest rating of the USPTA as Master Pro. He was ranked number one in the nation in Men’s 65 singles in the USPTA. Dr. Burrus was preceded in death by his wife, Wilma. He is survived by his brother, Ronald Burrus of Lubbock, his son, Harry Burrus of Houston, and his daughter, Lei Lane Burrus Bammel of Tucson.

“Many don’t realize that my father was an excellent badminton player in St. Louis,” Burrus said. “He was a member of the Polar Bear Club in St. Louis, a group that played volleyball in very cold weather. They’d shovel the snow off the court to play.”

There is much more to the late Harry Burrus Jr…..

“In St. Louis in a Parent & Child tournament—my father and my sister, Lei Lane, defeated Gloria and a pre-teen Jimmy Connors,” the younger Burrus writes.

“My father played in the Blue and Gray Championship football game in Montgomery, Ala., in 1941. He was sent a check to cover his expenses from a Champ Pickens, the general manager of the Blue and Gray Cradle Association, sponsors of the game. It’s particularly interesting given the language [and from a present-day perspective]:

“December 15, 1941
“Dear Mr. Burrus:

:”Herewith your check for $76.17. This will purchase a first class round-trip ticket from Abilene to Montgomery and return. Included in the check is the money for lower Pullman berth each way, money for meals each way figured at $1.50 per meal, and $2.00 each way for tips. You have previously received instructions and know it is optional with you as to how you travel.

“The thing that you must remember now is to be in Montgomery for the first practice, which takes place the morning of December 20th and not to fail to bring your shoes, headgear and pads.

“Looking forward with pleasure to meeting you, and with all good wishes, I am

“Very truly yours


“Champ Pickens
“General Manager

“[There is a postscript written in hand—evidently, my father had written saying he would be leaving from Lubbock].


Your letter just received—I don’t know where Lubbock is, but presume fare is about same—if not, will adjust….

“To save money, my father hitchhiked.”

Of his father’s outstanding performance against Otto Graham of the Cleveland Browns, Burrus said: ”He was called Lighthorse Harry [because of his speed] – intercepted three of Otto Graham’s passes. In those days, one played offense and defense. For every pass intercepted, a player received a bonus of 25 dollars. My father had told my mother that any pass intercepted, he would give her the money.

He was very pleased with his three interceptions. After the game, when he approached my mother, he was very excited over his performance and gave her the money. He said, ‘Isn’t that great?’ She said, ‘How could you have dropped the fourth one?’

“He nearly had four interceptions.”

Harry Burrus tells me, “I was born June 1, 1944 [which makes me 60! Ouch! How can that be?] in Denver at 3:30 a.m. I was only there long enough to have an ice cream cone, and then we were in San Antonio.

“I grew up in St. Louis, starting in kindergarten. We lived in Webster Groves and I attended Parkway High School. I was the leading scorer on the Colts’ basketball team and won the Missouri State High School tennis championship in 1961. I graduated in 1962.

“At Parkway, I was president of the student council and member of the National Honor Society. I had nearly as many scholarship possibilities in basketball as I did in tennis. I went to Trinity for one year and then Washington University in St. Louis.

“I began playing Iowa tournaments in the mid- to late-50s, starting in the 15 and under. At that time, there was the 15 and under category and then the 18 and under—which was a huge jump. Now, of course, it progresses by twos—10s, 12s, 14s, 16s and 18s, etc. I remember playing in a tournament in St. Louis and asking a friend where he’d been recently, as I hadn’t seen him, and he said playing a tournament in Iowa.

That sounded exotic and I immediately gathered information about Iowa tennis. I often played the Burlington tournament in September of each year—it was a wonderful experience…..

“While I was in grad school [broadcasting and film] at Iowa from 1970 to 1972, I was also the assistant tennis coach and played Iowa tennis tournaments and other Missouri Valley tournaments. For two years I taught film and creative writing in Galesburg, Ill.—still playing Iowa tournaments.

“From 1973-1977, I was the tennis pro at Racquet Club West in West Des Moines, and during this time I played Iowa tournaments.

“I moved to Houston in June of 1977. I played tournaments in the Texas Section from 1977 through 2000. I haven’t played since the Houston Coca-Cola Open in April of 2000. I’m in a dormant period.”

Burrus said he has an MA from Iowa and an MFA in Writing from Vermont.

“In 1993, I began a publication called “O!!Zone,” which concentrated on international visual poetry,” he said. “It was recognized as one of the best in the world covering visual poetry. [But] 2001 was the last issue. That, too is dormant.

“I’ve been active as a photographer. I had a one-man show at Houston’s International Foto Fest. My photos have been used by other poets for covers of their books. For many years, I’ve done a lot of collage and my visual work has been exhibited in Europe, Russia, Japan, Chile and Brazil. I continue to be a collagist.

“I’ve written a novel called “Huitzilopochtli, The Hummingbird Wizard” – now I need to find a publisher.

“The focus of my current writing is screenplays. I’ve written eight. I just finished doing a rewrite for a producer on a script called “Carmen.” This is the first time I’ve ever worked on someone else’s writing. The producer is trying to get Enrique Iglesias for the lead. I’m waiting to hear from the producer. I’m working on a new screenplay called “Club Quetzal.”

Burrus said he has “finished the editing of my feature film “Marrakech” in May of this year []. I had been talking to a distributor for months, but the contract we had agreed upon was not the one I received in the mail. Hence, I am looking for a distributor. This is the longest and most frustrating part of indie filmmaking.

“Travel has been important to me, and I utilize it, my journal notes and photography a lot in my writing. I’ve spent time in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Guatemala and Mexico [24 trips]. During the late 60s and early 70s I played an international tournament in San Luis Potosi, Mexico during Semana Santa [Easter].

“At some point, Megan and I plan to move to Mexico. Megan Gabel is my wife and we’ve been together for 24 years. She’s a lawyer.

:”I plan to continue writing screenplays, hopefully making a few films from my scripts. I also want to sell scripts. Eventually, the tennis will be resumed.”

Interesting guy, huh?

Vol. 4, No. 263
Oct. 4, 2004