Robert J. Burns, 1916-2013: UT prof pioneered elder-care training


Robert J. Burns, a University of Toledo psychology professor who was an early leader in describing the attributes and needs of an aging population, died Friday in his Fort Myers, Fla., home. He was 96.

He had cancer, said Barb Stockard, a goddaughter. He and his late wife, Anne Burns, moved to Florida from West Toledo more than 20 years ago.

Mr. Burns retired as a professor of psychology in 1982 after a 36-year UT career that began when he became evening sessions student assistant in 1936. A decade later, after stateside Army Air Corps service during World War II, he became assistant director of evening sessions programs. He became an assistant professor of psychology in 1951 and an associate professor in 1957. He served as acting department chairman from 1961 to 1964 and was named a professor in 1972. He was primarily a teacher, rather than a researcher, said Harvard Armus, who was on the faculty.

“He was very thorough,” Mr. Armus said. “He was well-organized, and students thought his lectures were clear. He was a good colleague.”

He helped build UT’s industrial psychology program, which had only one course when he joined the faculty. He also began to study the psychology of aging and retirement before many others, and he was a consultant to organizations aiding older people.

“He was one of the pioneers in formulating a curriculum to train nursing home administrators,” said Billie Johnson, president and chief executive of the Area Office On Aging of Northwestern Ohio. “People would come from all over the country to learn about his nursing home training programs.”

In 1971, Mr. Burns was selected for a governor’s statewide task force on employment and retirement, and then to attend a White House conference on aging. He was a former chairman of the state’s board of examiners of nursing home administrators, to which he was first appointed in 1976.

Born Nov. 14, 1916, he was a graduate of Scott High School. He received a bachelor’s in business administration in 1941 and a master’s in psychology in 1950 from UT. He received a doctorate in 1966 from the University of Michigan. His dissertation was on how people deal with retirement. He later began seminars at UT on aging.

He and his wife married Oct. 17, 1942. She died April 6, 2001. The couple had no children, but they had circles of friends in Toledo and Florida. They also had three godchildren to whom they remained close — Mrs. Stockard; her brother, Robert Bowen, Jr., and Carrie Layne. There are no immediate survivors.

A memorial reception is set for 2-4 p.m. Friday in Seven Lakes, the Fort Myers community where he lived. Memorial services are pending at St. Michael’s in the Hills Episcopal Church, Ottawa Hills, where he remained a member.

The family suggests tributes to St. Michael’s in the Hills or the Robert and Anne Evans Burns Scholarship in psychology in care of the UT Foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.