At age 85, Gallatin Civic Center worker Bob Burnette has a passion for working hard, getting the job done right, and bringing out the best in others.
“He has a heart of gold,” said coworker Kristina Likens. “Like the little energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going.”
David Brown, director of Parks and Recreation for Gallatin, said that Burnette has been coming to the center for 10 years; initially coming for workouts.
“He enjoys working and everybody around here loves him,” Brown said. “He’s a worker. You don’t have to say anything to him. He’s always doing something. He’s even said, ‘I’ll do anything.’ So, he was over here walking and exercising one day, and he asked me if I needed anybody. He was looking for something to do, and I told him we’ll put you to work. So, we put him to work, and he’s been great ever since. And – he still works out here every day.”
Brown said that Burnette started working there in March 2018, noting that he initially started out in 2016 taking care of flowers on the town square in Gallatin until the street department took over.
“I’ve been here 45 years full-time and five years part-time,” said Brown. “There’s not many who’ve worked here that have been as dedicated as he is to his job. He doesn’t complain about anything. He’s just a great employee. I wish I had 10 of him. It’s unusual these days to find somebody with the work ethic he has.”
Burnette’s supervisor Elaine Hudson, assistant director of parks and recreation, has also been impressed, having met him initially as someone who works out at the center.
“He’s amazing, and his energy level is incredible,” Hudson said. “He is just loved by everybody and so well-respected. He’s one of those people that will find the good in everybody and in everything. He’s so positive. It doesn’t matter what needs to be done, he’s going to do it. He will help in any way.
“If anybody is sick, he’ll stay late. He’ll come in another day if needed. He’s just marvelous. He’s just one of those people you don’t hear anything bad about. Nothing but good is said about him.”
Burnette puts things in perspective with genuine humility and a dedication to doing the right thing by helping people out, getting the job done and encouraging others.
“I’m a very ordinary kind of guy,” Burnette said. “I retired in 2005 from Americo logistics company transportation management in Murfreesboro and Tampa, Fla. I had been working for a company in Nashville for awhile before that. Then I went to work at Lowe’s in Gallatin for seven years and was working out in the gym here at the Civic Center, living in Lafayette.”
Burnette said that work has to be regimented in order to make things more comfortable for him.
“In the military you got up, ate, exercised, had duties at a certain time,” he said. “With a regimented routine, you knew exactly what to do or what to tell somebody. I was a kid coming off the farm at age 17 going straight into the army in 1951 during the Korean War and stayed in until 1965.”
He had gotten married and had a daughter in school in Oakland, Calif. while he was at San Francisco State College worked at the Federal Marshal’s office in San Francisco.
“I wanted to get my daughter who was deaf into a public school,” he said. “I had a friend who owned a furniture store back in Tennessee in the Rutherford-Davidson area.”
So he moved to Tennessee and got his daughter enrolled in a school for special needs in Knoxville.
“She is now employed by that school in Knoxville,” he said.
Burnette was married to his first wife for 20 years before they divorced. He said the experience helped to shape and define his sense of place and purpose.
“The man who had more influence on me than anybody else was my ex-father in law Wiley Skaggs,” he said. “He could do anything. He had no education and it didn’t bother him. He could take a box of what I would call plunder, and he could make anything out of it. He was just a good person, and anytime you talked to him, you could learn a lesson. To tell you the truth, he’s probably why I stayed married to my first wife as long as I did because I just really respected and admired him more than anything. Just so many life lessons in that one man.”
Thinking back, he noted that his first wife also offered some insight as well.
“People in the Army go to war, and people in the Army come home,” he said. “But some people bring the war back home with them and some leave the war where it was. If you can’t separate that, you’ll have a problem. You can’t live two lives successfully.”
Burnette likes the regimen that his work at the Civic Center provides.
“I started out taking care of flowers downtown, and then here in maintenance,” he said. “At 5 a.m. I work out for a couple hours. Three days a week I take Tai Chi. No hobbies or TV. I work 25 to 30 hours a week here, Monday through Friday. I enjoy being around people to get to know and enjoy. And I get to work with Kristie.”
Likens looks forward to each day she gets to work alongside Bob Burnette.
“He is very humble,” she said. “He is a what-can-I-do-for-you kind of person. He’s a wonderful man and an angel. His demeanor and attitude are always upbeat and happy and he puts a smile on your face. He’s my hero.”
Burnette is grateful for the 35 years he has shared with his wife, Nelda, counting her among his many blessings, friends and true treasures.
After 85 years, he is clear on putting things in perspective, with one lesson that still has profound effect in setting things straight.
“The things that I remember, those things that have an impact on me are the tough things I did,” he said. “There are good things that I enjoyed, but they didn’t have any lasting effect on me. It was the hard times. It was the hard jobs. It was the hard life that impacted me to strive to do better.
“I thank the Lord every day for my health - both physical and mental. I walk six miles, seven days a week; and have exercised in a club or gym for at least 40 years. On Sunday after church I walk six to seven miles at the greenway in Triple Creek. I like people as they are. I want to learn to live with people I can enjoy the way they are – not gonna change anybody. I just like people.”
He paused for a moment then shared one piece of advice on putting things in perspective for an active, positive life.
“It does you no good to get stuck in a rut,” he said, with a wry smile. “A rut is nothing but a grave with both ends knocked out.”