Clark Burrus, counsel to multiple Chicago mayors and mentor to countless public finance professionals — white, African-American, Democrat and Republican alike — was remembered for both his financial and political acumen at funeral services last week.
Burrus died in hospice care June 17 and was remembered at services last week. He was 86.
Burrus served as city comptroller from 1973 to 1979, the first African-American to serve in the role managing the city's borrowing. He served as president of the Government Finance Officers Association in 1978.
Numerous banks sought to recruit him after he left office, and he settled on the First National Bank of Chicago, which evolved into First Chicago Capital Markets and is now part of JPMorgan. He led the firm's public finance group.
In a Bond Buyer story on the former First Chicago, a source was quoted as saying: "Clark was an institution of his own with Clark they had a stranglehold" on local municipal deals.
Burrus survived the 1995 merger of First Chicago and NBD Bancorp but then retired in 1998 when Bank One acquired the institution.
After his retirement, the firm saw its work with the city and county plummet.
Mayors relied on Burrus for finance and political advice, a confidence that was underscored in the key roles he played on prominent boards.
He lent a strong hand in the recovery of the Chicago Public Schools after their 1979 collapse as a school board member in the 1980s.
He served as chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority board from 1989 to 1995 working on funding formulas and new capital spending.
He worked on the transition teams for mayors Harold Washington, Eugene Sawyer, and Richard M. Daley and former Cook County Board President John Stroger.
"He was one of the good guys in government and public finance. He could work with anyone and always kept things in perspective. Often when there was a problem with an issue or a documents he would offer a common sense solution," said Bill Morris, a retired public finance banker and former state lawmaker and Waukegan mayor who was counseled by his friend, Burrus, to enter public finance. "Even when he was in the private sector he would remind everyone of our obligation to the public."
Burrus is remembered as a mentor who schooled young professionals both in the ways of finance and Chicago politics. Many who went on to hold prominent banking and public positions say Burrus helped them.
Thomas Glaser, former chief financial officer of Cook County who is now at the College of DuPage, worked at First Chicago under Burrus, who recommended him to Stroger.
"One of the many things I admired Clark for was that when you consider the racial divide in our country as he was building his career, he had to have overcome many obstacles," Glaser said. "To achieve what he did in both the public and private sectors speaks to his character, perseverance and knowledge. He was devoted to his wife and family and was a strong, supportive leader in GFOA. He will be missed."
Burrus, a native Chicagoan from the city's south side, attended undergraduate school in Texas and earned a master's degree in public administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He began his city career in 1950 working as an auditor.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Lucille, a stepson and a step-granddaughter.