Darrell Burris grew up in Oklahoma and was a multi-sport star in high school before joining the U.S. Army, where he specialized in artillery. After he left the military, Burris worked for a print shop and eventually opened his own shop, Burris Printing, in 1979. Late in life, Burris developed symptoms of dementia. After his death in 2020 at the age of 86 his family donated his brain to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) research.
On a cool November day in 1934, in a small Oklahoma house with a dirt floor, Darrell Gene Burris began his journey, touching the lives of thousands. What day, exactly, that was, became a point of contention, because the doctor went on vacation and ultimately forgot the exact date he was born.
"I remember," his mother Ruby would tell him. "I was there."
From that humble start, Darrell began a life filled with service to others, not only because it was his faith, but also part of his being. He helped his late father Gene Burris paint and wallpaper houses at a very young age. When his sister Paula (Burris) Casey and brother Randy Burris were born, he helped his mother shower them with love.
When he was just 17-years-old, he saw a tall, beautiful girl walking to school and asked if she wanted a ride. Despite being a baseball, basketball, boxing, and football star as well as a handsome high school teen, she told him "no." Day after day he would drive by her and ask again until finally, she agreed to have a coke with him after school. Less than a year later, when Mary Lou Porter was just 15-years-old she and Darrell snuck off to get married.
For six months they kept their marriage a secret by continuing to live with their families and longing to be together. Her father was furious and threatened to annul the marriage when he discovered it. Darrell fought to keep Mary Lou and they remained married for 35 years until one freezing day in 1987 when she was taken too soon in a tragic car accident on the Overholser Bridge on Route 66 near Bethany, Oklahoma. She was just 50-years-old. He would never remarry.
Besides Darrell's love for his wife Mary Lou, he loved his family and many friends. He enjoyed the service members he met during his basic training in the U.S. Army at Ft. Sill, Ft. Polk and Ft. Belvoir. He excelled at artillery, but one day he confessed to his commanding officer that he didn't think he could ever kill another person because he was a Christian. Instead of sending him for further combat training, they sent Darrell to the Ft. Belvoir print shop, where he learned a trade that would carry through the rest of his life.
Civilian life allowed Darrell to use his printing skills by working at several companies including OPUBCO while always dreaming of owning his own shop. In 1979 in Oklahoma City he finally achieved his goal and opened Burris Printing. The company printed material for many clients including Braum's Ice Cream & Dairy, the National Weather Service Training Center in Norman, Oklahoma, and Stucky's Diamonds in Houston, Texas, just to mention a few.
When his granddaughter Sarah Katheryn was born, Darrell and Mary Lou's lives changed forever. After his wife's death, it was his time with Sarah he said, that saved him. "You're going to have to learn how to use the dishwasher," Darrell remembered Sarah telling him. At age 6, Sarah literally saved him when he accidentally caught his kitchen on fire while cooking as he watched a basketball game on TV despite the house filling with smoke. There were also times Sarah tried to force him to eat his vegetables and she would later find them hidden in his napkin. Darrell struggled with diabetes and she would frequently find his freezer full of Nutty-Buddies and chocolate milk.
His Yukon, Oklahoma home frequently became a favorite place for his granddaughter's giggling teenage friends to hold their slumber parties and New Year's sleepovers. To this day, a whole generation of Yukon graduates, teachers, and administration staff refers to him as "Papa."
After retiring from printing, Darrell joined the team at Lowe's working part-time, always promising his customers 10% discounts. He enjoyed using his time away from Lowe's at the Yukon Bowling Alley where he volunteered to teach over a hundred children in youth bowling classes. Many of his students even went on to win tournaments. Darrell's family and friends lost track of the number of perfect score-300 games he bowled but each game would bring a gold ring he kept lined up in his sock drawer.
Darrell joined his wife Mary Lou in Heaven on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. His granddaughter Sarah and his sister Paula lovingly held his hands while playing his favorite Elvis songs.
Those left behind are his sister, Paula (Burris) Casey and husband Mike Casey of Oklahoma City, brother Randy Burris and wife Vicki of Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia, son Michael Burris and wife Susan of Yukon, son Samuel Burris of Los Angeles, California, granddaughter Sarah Burris of Washington, D.C. as well as nephews Michael Siekel and wife Jeri of Oklahoma City, Scott Wallace and wife Jennifer of Southlake, Texas, nieces Jennifer Burris and Andee Allen of Georgia as well as great-nephews and nieces Lucas, Lilyan, Jacob, Brandon Kyle and Dee.
Neurologists were never able to fully diagnose Darrell's dementia. There were suspicions of Alzheimer's Disease, questions about CTE and others. So, Darrell donated his brain to the Boston University's study with the Veterans Administration investigating how concussions can contribute to degenerative brain diseases. The family's hope is that their struggles to diagnose him and searches for solutions for care can help other families.
You May Also Like
Research is core to everything we do. Explore different research studies to learn more and see if you or a loved one would be a good fit.Participate in Research
We encourage everyone to pledge to donate their brain to research. Learn more about our CLF Research Registry and how you can sign-up to give back through science.Pledge Your Brain