By: FRANCES WOMBLE
Stephen Burton, University Mary Washington music professor of 30 years, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on Dec. 31.
During his three decades at Mary Washington, he started the show choir ensemble known as “Encore” and worked with UMW’s Women’s Chorus, in addition to his teaching duties and commitments to various musical groups in the Fredericksburg community.
Although he did not have a close relationship with Burton, junior Mitchell Bass remembers Burton’s dedication to UMW’s musical students and his work with Jazz Band.
“We all loved him for his efforts,” Bass said.
Junior Robert Meissner agrees. “Dr. Burton always had a jovial attitude,” he said. “Rehearsals can sometimes be stressful, but Dr. Burton was great at lightening the mood. He always looked like he was having fun while playing.”
Similarly, student Andrea Fritch remembers Burton’s great sense of humor. Fritch recalls Burton constantly joking about cancer induced hair loss.
“After finding out about the cancer, the first thing he said was ‘I hope I don’t lose my hair!’” Fritch said.
Burton took Fritch with three other students to Norfolk in November for the Music Educators Conference despite being sick.
He also continued to conduct The Spotsylvanians, a local choir in which Fritch participated, until Dec. 12.
“He came to every practice and stuck with us even though it was an un-auditioned choir,” she said. “He had great patience with us.”
UMW alumnus Tyler VanderMeer started singing under Burton’s direction in the show choir at the beginning of his freshman year in 2006 and continued until the spring of 2010. “Dr. Burton really made me a better singer,” VanderMeer said.
“He pushed me hard in my solos and I found a range and a new way of expressing myself. I had no idea I was capable of singing like I did until I sang with Dr. Burton,” she added.
Burton’s wife, Tammy Burton, was aware of his dedication to his students.
“Dr. Burton loved his students and considered them to be a part of his family,” she said.
At Encore’s winter concert, the choir was joined on staged by 30 of Burton’s former students to sing “Lean on Me.”
“We were blessed with the experience of singing under [Burton’s] direction,” Mercedes Precht-Matuschek, a member of the Spotsylvanians, said at his funeral, “as we have been blessed with being a part of his life at a time like this, his last rite of passage.”
Besides his work with UMW and The Spotsylvanians, he worked with a variety of other musical groups including Maranatha Touring Choir, Fredericksburg Singers, Fredericksburg Community Chorus, The Stafford Regional Choral Society and Historyland Barbershop Chorus.
He also appeared in more than 30 productions at the Riverside Dinner Theater.