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Bob Burnett

Photo by Mark Swirsky, www.familyventures.com
Bob passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his family after a courageous battle with an aggressive brain tumor. Bob was born in Providence on Feb. 7, 1940 to Roberta (Sherwin) and Robert Burnett. He is survived by his much beloved wife of 47 years, Kathleen Burnett (Cullis). He grew up in Mystic, CT, as an avid sailor and member of the Mason’s Island Yacht Club. Bob maintained his interest in sailing throughout his life. He raced his Ensign “Bobcat” out of the Bristol Yacht Club. He also raced in the Newport to Bermuda race several times and in many other sailboat races throughout Long Island Sound and Narragansett Bay.

Bob attended Mount Hermon School in Northfield, MA and maintained close contact with many of his classmates throughout his life. Upon graduation, he attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, majoring in political science. In his freshman year he joined EQV, a local fraternity. It was there that he and his fraternity brothers Dave Fisher, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels and Steve Trott formed the folk singing group “The Highwaymen.” The group went on to make the song “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” a gold record phenomenon in 1961.

After completing college in 1962 Bob joined the Army. He did his basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was here that he met and fell in love with his wife Kathy, the Colonel’s daughter.

After serving in the military he lived and sang with The Highwaymen in Greenwich Village at the height of the folk singing era. In 1964 he married Kathleen and attended Harvard Law School. After graduation, he began his legal/banking career at Edwards & Angell. He then worked as a Senior Vice President in the trust department of the Hospital Trust National Bank, Fleet, Bank Boston and finally Bank of America. He was an active member of both the Probate & Trust Committee of the RI Bar and the Estate Planning Council of Rhode Island. He was well respected in the business community for the quality of his work, his professional knowledge and his integrity. Bob always provided personal care to all his customers, often attending their major family events.

Bob was actively involved in the community. He served as the chairman of the board of Moses Brown School, he was on the board of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Cancer Society, and has sat on and advised numerous non-profit boards.

In 1990 the original Highwaymen sang at Universal Studios to settle a lawsuit against the other “Highwaymen” group consisting of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willy Nelson. This event sparked a new beginning for The Highwaymen. They performed all over the country for the past 20 years, reviving the sounds of the 60’s. A book written by Richard E. Noble called "Number #1" follows this group's journey through folk music history.

Music continued to be important to Bob throughout his life. He and his wife were members of the Chorus of East Providence for several years. The Chorus recently honored him for his contribution to music.

Bob was also an avid athlete. He was recently awarded a confirmation from Wesleyan that his 13-foot pole-vaulting record would remain as the top height with the equipment of his era. Bob became a runner later in life and completed the Ocean State and the New York Marathons. Running was part of his daily routine.

As successful as he was in his professional life, it was his family that he considered to be his greatest accomplishment. One of his greatest joys was to watch his grandchildren play soccer and basketball, sing, dance and play the piano. He is survived by his son, Michael and wife Mary-Ellen Burnett, and their children, Andie and Ben, all of Rindge, NH; his daughter, Melissa and husband Anthony Burnett-Testa, and their children, Tressa, Téa and Emma, all of East Greenwich, RI; his daughter Katherine and husband Scott McDonald, and their children, Gwyneth, Maeve, Aidan and Liam, all of West Hartford, CT; his brother Alan and wife Denise, of Mystic CT; his brother David and wife Nancy, of Norwich, CT; his brother-in-law, Michael Cullis and wife Susan, of Middletown, NJ; and many nieces and nephews.