DU Loses Dynamic Leader Joy Burns

Joy Burns, President and CEO of the D.C. Burns Realty and Trust Company and the owner of the former Burnsley Hotel, passed away from a prolonged illness at age 92. Burns was one of the most dynamic contributors of the University of Denver for over 30 years. Originally from Houston, Texas, Burns was married to Frank L. Burns for 39 years.

Ms. Burns carved a dynamic path for women in sports. As chair of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, she was instrumental in the Colorado Convention Center’s expansion. In the finance world, she founded and served as director of the Women’s Bank, now Colorado Business Bank. As the only female gubernatorial appointee to the Metropolitan Football Stadium Board, Burns was dubbed the most powerful woman in Colorado sports. She was part-owner of the Colorado Xplosion women’s professional basketball team, is a former president of the University of Denver’s Pioneer Sportswomen, and is the president of the Sportswomen of Colorado Foundation.

In 1981, she joined the University of Denver Board of Trustees. Nine years later she became Chairman of the Board, becoming the first woman to hold the post. Her passion for DU was legendary and it was reflected with her support of the Joy Burns Arena at the Ritchie Center and the Joy Burns Plaza in the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The building that houses the Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management is named the Joy Burns Center, in honor to her contributions to the hospitality business. In addition, she supports the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, named after her late husband. Burns was inducted into the University of Denver Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997 reflecting her support for women’s athletics especially gymnastics. She was also the recipient of the 2005 DU Josef Korbel Humanitarian Award and the 2008 award for Distinguished Service to the University. In 2018, Burns was awarded the Founders Award, DU’s highest award for service to the University.

She was a frequent advisor, companion and confidant to former chancellor Daniel Ritchie. Along with Ritchie, Joy Burns played a major role in DU’s financial turnaround, started in the 80’s. She told Black Tie Colorado, “The one thing that I’m proudest of is having been a part of a group of people that worked so hard for 25 years to turn the University of Denver around. When I first was involved with the Board, I didn’t know how financially troubled the university was. To have had the opportunity to be part of a board of Trustees and work with others within the administration, such as Dan Ritchie, and those who have been involved in the leadership of the university I think this is my biggest accomplishment. To see where we were in 1981, versus where we are today as a university, it’s there to see.”

And how did she want to be remembered?  I think I’d like to be remembered by future generations just like my buddy, Steve Edmonds, talked about: ‘Doing the right things for the right reasons, and for the way I treated people.’ That’s a pretty good way to be remembered, isn’t it?”

Joy Burns will be forever remembered as one of DU’s greatest supporters and advocates. She will be dearly missed by the DU community.


Photo credit: bizjournals.com

5 thoughts on “DU Loses Dynamic Leader Joy Burns”

  1. About vten or so years ago I thanked Joy for what she was doing for D.U. and she simply said “a “I love this school”
    That’s what it was; a love affair.

    1. Such a sad day for DU. Joy Burns will be missed…..and for a lot more than most people realize.

  2. Joy was one of a kind. Bold, generous, opinionated, visionary. While she dedicated much of her life to DU from the ’80s onward and had a big impact with multiple gifts and principled leadership across the university, I think her real passion was around elevating women’s sports.

    The women’s gymnastics program in particular is an NCAA top 5 program today in large measure because Joy invested in the program and made sure Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart had what she needed as coach to build it to that level.

  3. Ms. Burns was a DU icon. A tireless supporter and leader of DU. I always thought of her and Dan Ritchie as a dynamic duo who were the leaders of DUs renaissance in the 90s and beyond. Anu supporter of DU owes her a huge debt of gratitude.

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