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J. Bracken Burns, Humanitarian & Community Volunteer

February 26, 2024 | By Dorothy Tecklenburg

J. Bracken Burns, former Washington County Commissioner.

Why would anyone … raise money to help Alzheimer’s patients? No one else volunteered.

… work to affirm liberty and justice for people with disabilities? People were in need.

… simultaneously serve on the boards of twenty-five nonprofit organizations? They asked him.

Look up “Community Service” in the dictionary and Bracken Burns’ picture should be there. Why is he so passionate about serving his community? Was it his mom? “No- she was too busy raising six children.”

His dad? “No, he worked six days a week as a carpenter. But he instilled in me his all-consuming work ethic.”

So how did Bracken (like Cher, he is well known by one name) become Washington County’s go-to fixer? “I guess it’s just the way I am.”

If someone needs help, Bracken is there, offering his time, his expertise, his leadership. He takes on social causes, civic issues, human rights conundrums as if they were his personal challenges. And he does it with good humor, dedication, and boundless enthusiasm.

“I enjoy it. I don’t feel like I’m any big deal. I like people; I like to help. If you are helping the poor or helping people who have been discriminated against and you ask me, I consider it a compliment and I show up. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Bracken ems
Bracken was director of Washington County Emergency Medical Services from 1974-1996.

While many recognize Bracken as a long-time county commissioner, he began his career as a paramedic and later spent twenty years teaching EMT certification classes to 10,000 students. How did he start?

“I was young, it’s service, it’s exciting. Maybe there’s an accident, someone’s trapped, it gets the adrenalin flowing. Sirens and saving lives and rubbing elbows with doctors or police in emergency situations. It’s the big leagues. I was always proud to do it.”

In recognition of his community service, Bracken Burns is the recipient of the Washington County Community Foundation’s Louis E. Waller Humanitarian Award. It recognizes a local individual devoted to the promotion of human welfare and/or the advancement of social reforms. He embodies those criteria, as colleagues and friends point out.

Diana and bracken
Former co-commissioners, Diana Irey Vaughn and Bracken Burns.

"I have great respect and admiration for Bracken, a tireless worker with integrity,” says his former co-commissioner, Diana Irey Vaughn. “He cares more deeply about his community and the needs of others than himself.”

Gary Stout, who nominated him for the award, says, "I have never met another like Bracken Burns. The success and well-being of Washington County residents, especially the most disadvantaged and challenged among us, consume his thoughts and valuable time.”

Has Bracken ever said “No” when someone asked for help?

“I can’t even imagine the circumstance where I would say no,” he answers quickly.” I’ve had people ask for help who didn’t deserve it. I helped anyway. That’s just who I am.”

He admits not everyone praises his commitment.

“Some people tell me that I’m a sucker or a loser, wasting my time. If something needs to be done, I’m capable of doing it. I’m glad I’m a helper.”

He ignores the nay-sayers.

“There are people who think we can’t come together, that anyone who is different is an enemy. I’m too busy helping people to think that. We’re all in it together and that means a lot to me.”