My hometown of Little Falls NY mourns the recent passing of Bill Burrows, Chairman of Burrows Paper Corporation and in a less visible role, a significant philanthropist leaving an enduring mark on our community.
In one sense, his business world was a bit different than mine. He was fourth generation in his family to be in the paper business, starting his career in the factory at age 12. Following college and military service as a Naval Officer, he worked his way up the ladder of various management roles eventually succeeding to the CEO role.
Even though it was a family business, I view his complete transformation of the company to a global enterprise (that included growing revenues 100x from when he started), to be an entrepreneurial success by any measure.
That level of growth acceleration was especially unusual to find in a 95 year old family business.
Given the amount of wealth already in his family, I’m sure he could have led a very comfortable life without the stress that accompanies guiding a rapidly growing business over nearly four decades.
Bill’s success as a business leader was well known locally, but less visible was the impact he quietly had behind the scenes building the quality of life in our community.
He created and ran his own foundation for 40 years supporting more than 100 different charities in the area. These ranged from small budget community athletic activities to our local YMCA and hospital. Several non profits with a proven track record of impacting quality of life in our community received annual unrestricted grants that could be used for operating expenses. In the world of non profits seeking to maintain a consistent level of impact through ups and downs in the economy, such unrestricted grants are the most precious gifts of all.
It is not uncommon for wealthy people to leave their mark on a community or college by making large donations resulting in their name being memorialized on a building.
Bill chose to follow a different path with his philanthropy. Instead of putting his name out there for people to see, he invested time to sift through the giving opportunities, picking those with the impact he sought and in some cases, providing guidance to the organization’s leaders.
Through these efforts over many years, his supported organizations and charities helped shape the fabric of our community and contributed to making Little Falls a very special place for quality of life.
This touched me indirectly since that quality of life was a key reason I moved my family from Silicon Valley so that our own children would grow up here. A life impacting decision which put our entire family on a very different trajectory, potentially for generations.
My regret is that I did not get to know Bill personally. There is much I wished I had thanked him for.
He will be missed, but has left his mark here that will be long lasting. And the example he set inspires me to continue efforts in making a difference by leveraging entrepreneurial success to have a social impact.