Those who knew Wynn Burrus (BSBA ’20) loved everything about her. Those who didn’t know her wish they had.
Compassion was Burrus’s default. With her sister, she created a prom at Broughton High School in Raleigh, her alma mater, for students across Wake Country with special needs. It was called Winterfest. Now it’s called Wynnterfest.
While at Carolina, she started Hope for Hope, a pen pal program that pairs elementary students at Hope Charter Leadership Academy with members from her sorority, Kappa Delta, who became mentors.
She wrote people notes. Hundreds of them. She left, “Mom, have a great day” on the steering wheel of Beth Burrus’ car. “I hope work goes great today,” showed up at her father Erik Burrus’ office. “You got this.” She often wrote notes to friends just to tell them how much they meant to her.
The last note Burrus wrote was to her family just days before she died. She hadn’t been feeling well and was staying with her parents for the weekend.
After she died suddenly, her parents found the note folded on their bed. Before she had been rushed to the hospital, Burrus had drawn mountains and four stick figures hiking — her parents and her aunt and uncle. In the note, she wrote about how excited she was for parents’ weekend for Morehead-Cain Scholars and at Kappa Delta.
Burrus was just weeks shy of her 22nd birthday when she passed away in Chapel Hill in 2019. She had just started her final year in the Undergraduate Business Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School and had lined up a coveted investment banking job at J.P. Morgan Chase in New York where her sister, Parker, also worked.
“I’ve never seen someone who was more clearly born to make people feel special,” says her mom, Beth Burrus (BSBA ’87). “It was just innate with Wynn. She was just really good at being interested in what you were interested in and just being interested in you.
“I really miss that. I really miss that a lot.”
A new scholarship at UNC Kenan-Flagler honors both Burrus’s academic drive and her selfless nature. The Wynn Burrus Fellows Fund, launched through an initial gift from Beth and Erik Burrus, supports undergraduates admitted to the Business School who demonstrate remarkable leadership qualities and an unquenchable pull to positively impact the world.
The scholarship eventually will cover all tuition and fees for business majors during their junior and senior years and include a large stipend to support global experiences or extracurricular activities, reflective of Burrus’ adventurous spirit.
“We wanted to do something that would honor Wynn in a lasting way,” says Beth Burrus. “She loved UNC and she loved the Business School. She was so proud to be a part of the Business School. This was the best way to encompass so much of who Wynn was and support people who represent the same things she stood for.”
Her heart always had room.
If it was a friend’s birthday, they were running in a race or flying home from Christmas, Burrus knew and was there with a celebratory banner.
She was drawn to those who felt isolated or lost or were suffering. A transfer student to Carolina who joined Wynn’s sorority had trouble fitting in but felt comfortable joining her pledge class at Wynn’s family lake house because she knew Burrus would make her feel welcome.
“That’s just who she was,” says Beth Burrus. “Somehow, some way, she would do that.”
A Morehead-Cain Scholar, Burrus loved academic challenges like those she got at the Business School. Nothing could keep her from coming to Carolina.
“We wanted to do something that would honor Wynn in a lasting way,” says Beth Burrus. “She loved UNC and she loved the Business School. This was the best way to encompass so much of who Wynn was and support people who represent the same things she stood for.”
She turned down multiple full scholarships at schools across the U.S. to attend Carolina where her parents met as students, to go to the Business School her mom did and join the same sorority her mom had.
“Wynn was one of those people who did a lot and did it all well,” says Beth Burrus. “She was committed to doing the very best she could.”
Burrus was also fun and whimsical, quick to embrace the lightness in life. She wouldn’t just walk downstairs — she would skip.
She was not afraid of being silly and made up dances to songs from the musical “Hamilton” that she and her mother performed. She was the first to jump on stage at a Kappa Delta event, grab the microphone and sing and dance.
A swing on the porch of the Kappa Delta house includes a tribute that perfectly captures Burrus’ motto: “Have fun and look out for the lonely people.”
Burrus wanted adventure. She studied abroad at the Vienna University of Economics and Business and studied in Japan with the Business School. There were small adventures, too. She reveled in finding new coffee shops, taking different routes to class, visiting farms and trying new restaurants.
“She always found the craziest, most off-the-beaten-path things to do when you traveled with her,” says Beth Burrus. “I don’t know how she did it.”
A certain dichotomy guided Burrus’s short life. She was extremely accomplished but quiet about it. She didn’t tell her high school friends about all of the college scholarships she received. She won a top honor from Kappa Delta – the Corre Anding Stegall Collegiate Leadership Award – a few months right before she died, and she didn’t tell anybody.
The awards surprised her family. Not telling them about it didn’t.
“She was a strong leader but didn’t have to be front and center,” says Beth Burrus. “She never wanted to make it about herself.”
The Wynn Burrus Fellows Fund recognizes that there are many ways to be more like Wynn: being academically curious and accomplished or having big goals.
But there’s also just inviting someone to lunch, making a short phone call to catch up with a friend or writing a note to say, simply, “You got this.”
A Wynn Fellow will be that kind of person. But there will never be anyone quite like Wynn Burrus.