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Edwin G. Burdette, beloved professor emeritus in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, passed away Friday, May 18.

Burdette was a true teacher, having served the University of Tennessee for more than 50 years. He retired in 2016 but could often still be found on campus encouraging yet another generation of engineers and researchers.

“Ed loved teaching and considered it his life’s purpose,” said CEE Department Head Chris Cox. “His colleagues and former students will remember him exactly that way—as a demanding and awe-inspiring teacher and as a wonderful human being. We all consider ourselves fortunate to have known him. Our hearts go out to his wife Patsy and his entire family at this time of loss.”

Professor Edwin Burdette and former student Andrew Tinsley, one of the many students who Burdette mentored during his tenure at UT.
Professor Edwin Burdette and former student Andrew Tinsley, one of the many students who Burdette mentored during his tenure at UT.

Burdette’s research primarily focused on field testing highway bridges for the Tennessee Department of Transportation and testing anchors in concrete to support TVA’s nuclear power program.

His time at UT was filled with accolades. He was twice named an Engineering College Teaching Fellow and twice received an Alumni Outstanding Teaching award from the university. He was granted the first Fred Peebles Professorship in 1981, a title he held until his retirement. He was named Macebearer—the university’s highest faculty honor—in 1991 and received the university’s Alexander Prize in 2001. In 2017, Burdette received the Nathan W. Dougherty Award, the Tickle College of Engineering’s highest faculty honor.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities that UT gave me, both as a student and then later as a teacher,” said Burdette upon receiving the Dougherty award. “The education I got from the college and the rewarding experience I got from working there changed my life in ways I can’t imagine.”

A testament to his service and commitment to UT, the Edwin G. and Patsy H. Burdette Fellowship in Structural Engineering and the Dr. Edwin G. Burdette Endowed Professorship were established in 1994 and 2015, respectively, thanks to generous support from former students and colleagues.

Charley Hodges, who was a student under Burdette in the 1970s, said in 2015, “This [professorship] is a chance for Lynn and me to honor someone who has influenced not only my life but also the lives of countless others. His devotion to UT and to his students has impacted multiple generations.”

Burdette, who grew up in rural West Tennessee and attended UT Martin when it was a two-year college, transferred to UT Knoxville to complete his undergraduate studies in 1957. He and his wife, Patsy Hill Burdette, were married a week after graduation, and the following year he became an instructor of civil engineering at UT. He completed his master’s in civil engineering and was named an assistant professor in 1961.

After a brief stint earning his doctorate at the University of Illinois and working in Memphis, Burdette returned to UT to teach in 1969, earning the rank of professor in 1974.

“Ed and his wife Patsy have been very dear to me since my coming to UT in 1971,” said Interim Chancellor Wayne T. Davis, who taught in the department alongside Burdette. “He will truly be missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family even as we celebrate a life well lived. He was a friend to us all.”

One person stood above the rest in Burdette’s life: his wife, Patsy, who not only played the major role in raising their five children but also insisted on striving to be the best one could be. This attitude served as both inspiration and motivation throughout his long career.

Visitation of family and friends will be 10 a.m. Saturday, May 26, at Concord United Methodist Church in Knoxville, with the funeral service to follow at 11:30 a.m.

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In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Edwin G. and Patsy H. Burdette Fellowship in Structural Engineering, with checks made payable to the UT Foundation and mailed to Engineering Development, 1506 Middle Drive, 118 Perkins Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996.