Many people talk about staying busy in retirement, but they haven’t met Irene Burrus. The 93-year-old Algiers resident is involved in a mind-boggling array of civic initiatives, ranging from the Kiwanis Club of Algiers, to the Friends of the Algiers Courthouse, to the Republican Women of Louisiana, to the Algiers Police Advisory Committee — to name just a few.
Originally from northeast Mississippi, Burrus worked in bridal shops for many years. Later, she spent 35 years working part-time at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, welcoming guests, answering their questions and otherwise making sure conventions and events ran smoothly. She only stopped working there at age 90.
Burrus was married to the late John Burrus, a World War II veteran and career U.S. Navy carrier pilot, for almost 60 years. They had two children, and Burrus now has four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
WHY: “I believe in doing things in my own neighborhood if I can. That’s where you live, and that’s where you should be concerned about: what happens to the people in your neighborhood, and if they need anything.”
HOW: “Every chance I have to cook, I cook. I usually fix food for our Thursday evening Kiwanis meetings, and I like taking food to our board meetings, and I’m usually in charge of the dinner that we have for the Friends of the Courthouse. There’s lots and lots of things you can do.”
RECIPE: “Whatever is needed, I can make. My favorite thing is a crab salad. Tomato, mozzarella and fresh basil — I make a dish with that. I like making everything. I stay busy; that’s the main thing.”
ROOTS: “I was a Depression baby. I guess we had enough to eat, but it was not what we wanted to eat. And I remember we couldn’t do anything, because we had no money because the banks were all closed. It was a terrible time. Nobody had anything. I guess that made it easier because you couldn’t look around and say, ‘Well, they have it, why can’t I?’ Nobody would have it.”
GOALS: “I just wanted to survive. And get married and have a family and have pretty things. All women want that, I guess, to have a nice life and have somebody love them.”
INTRODUCTION: “There was no money to go to college, so I came to New Orleans to work with the Navy. The first day my boss said to me ‘Oh I know a nice young man.’ A few days later I was out at what is now UNO — it was a Naval air station at that time — and he was there. I thought he was a nice guy, but at that age I wasn’t looking for a nice guy, I was looking for an exciting guy. But we kept dating off and on and finally we got married.”
MARRIAGE: “Sometimes you have to keep your mouth shut when you’d like to say something. Just try to make it work, and if something goes wrong, try to rectify it as soon as you can. Don’t let it simmer. Don’t pout. Try to treat your husband or wife as your best friend, because that’s really what it amounts to.”
CONVENTIONS: “I met a lot of interesting people that I would have never met. I remember the doctor from South Africa that did the first heart transplant, Christiaan Barnard. Lots of writers, people on TV, politicians. Everybody came to give a speech or attend a conference and I made it my business to know who was who, and who I could see.”
MEETING: “After President Reagan was shot, the guy that grabbed John Hinckley came. He was being honored. I put a note on his registration form when he picked it up that I wanted to talk to him. He was very shy. I could see I’d done the wrong thing, that he really didn’t want to talk. But he was really nice.”
TOURISTS: “At first they all wanted to see the plantation homes up the river. And then it was all about going on a swamp tour. And then the cemeteries became very important for them to go to. You could always tell when somebody didn’t show up the next morning. Nine times out of 10 they spent too much time in the French Quarter. They’d always say the food made them sick.”
HOME: “I’ve lived in the same house since 1956. A lot of the people have moved out and I’m almost surrounded by empty houses, but I own my house and I like it. I don’t feel like giving it up and so far I’ve never had any trouble.”
ACHIEVEMENT: “Surviving, intact. I kind of roll with the punches. I worry about things that I can do something about and try to do something. But if it’s something that I have no control over, I just kind of go ‘oh well.'”
MEAL: “At different restaurants, I like different foods. If I go to O’Briens I like to have the crab salad. If I go to Commander’s I like to have the turtle soup and salad. Have you ever been to Pizza Delicious? That’s one of my favorite places to go. I think it’s the best pizza around.”
SHOUT-OUT: From Kathy Lynn Honaker, executive director of the Algiers Development District. “She has such a passion for helping others that she inspires us all to do more for our community and one another. Her energy is tireless and she is totally dedicated to making New Orleans and Louisiana a better place. At 93 years young she truly is a ‘hero’ of our community and state.”
WHAT WILL YOU DO?
- Join the Algiers Kiwanis Club or one in your neighborhood
- Learn about the Navy League’s New Orleans Council
- Join the Friends of the Algiers Courthouse
- Learn more about the other efforts Burrus has been involved in here.
State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, took over as chairman of the Algiers Development District’s board of commissioners Friday and immediately ordered a forensic audit of all the district’s contracts.
He also told those gathered for the new board’s first meeting that he is working to make the district subject to review by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office.
Carter said he and fellow new board member Gary Carter, a Democratic state representative and also his nephew, are working on bills in both chambers that would allow for regular state audits.
As for the audit, Troy Carter asked board attorney Richard Cortizas to solicit bids for a firm to “look at every encumbrance, every dollar past, present and future” and make the information available to the public.
Those initiatives, he said, will help bring transparency to the development district, a taxing district that owns Federal City, the 156-acre site of the former U.S. Navy Base in Algiers, and oversees its redevelopment.
“This is not something that belongs to anyone,” Troy Carter told the audience. “It belongs to you.”
The call for an audit “certainly does not cast aspersions on past leadership,” he said later.
The changing of the guard at the district follows last year’s elections. The board consists of the two state representatives and two state senators representing Algiers, Algiers’ City Council member, the mayor and the assessor, or their designees.
The Carters, along with Mark Major, are new additions to the board. They replace former state Rep. Jeff Arnold; his father, former Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold; and Tyrone Casby.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, Joe Toomy, James Henderson and Paul Collins remain on the board.
Troy Carter, who defeated Jeff Arnold for the Senate seat last fall after a race in which Carter said Arnold wasn’t doing enough to move Federal City forward, said the review is what he considers standard for taking over any agency.
Carter said he plans to make sure board meetings occur regularly and are well-advertised, something he said he has heard the public complain was not always the case in the past.
Henderson was named the board’s treasurer and Major its secretary.
The board also appointed Gary Carter and Algiers lawyer Ed Markle to the Joint Development Committee, a body that includes members of various agencies and approves future developments on the site, among other responsibilities.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.