Thelma Burns, nurse, advocate, and volunteer, dies at age 85

Thelma Burns

Thelma D. Burns, a longtime community activist, nurse, advocate and volunteer, has died. She was 85. Her family announced her passing in a Facebook post the next day.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of our mother’s passing," they wrote. "She went gently into the arms of our God on November 18th, with family by her side. Arrangement details will be forthcoming.”

Mrs. Burns was a well-loved mentor and leader in Boston’s Black community. A two-time cancer survivor, she was a fierce advocate for health equity and devoted to the work of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Faith-based Cancer Disparities Network.

She served on the Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) Board of Directors for more than 35 years, including stints as Board Chair, Vice Chair and Committee Chair. A longtime Dorchester resident, she headed the ABCD Dorchester Neighborhood Service Center board for more than 15 years. She also chaired or served on countless other community boards including Central Boston Elder Services, the Mayor’s Senior Advisory Council, and the Roxbury YMCA.

For 28 years, she served as METCO director for the Belmont Public Schools, retiring in 2008.
Mrs. Burns received her bachelor’s in Education from Boston University and her master’s in Education Administration from Harvard University. Always at the forefront of social justice initiatives, in 1968 she was a Robert F. Kennedy Fellow in Washington, DC.

In 2016, ABCD named a building it owns and manages on Warren Street in Grove Hall in her name.

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