Obituary: Burgess remembered as great judge, Gonzaga star
TACOMA, Wash. — A judge who died in Tacoma is being remembered as a star not only on the federal bench, but on another court as well: As a one-time college basketball star
who led the NCAA in scoring and put Gonzaga University on the map.
U.S. District Judge Franklin D. Burgess passed away Friday after battling cancer. He was 75.
The 6-foot-1 native of Eudora, Ark., led the nation in scoring in 1960-61, when he averaged 32.4 points per game during his senior season at Gonzaga. His No. 44 jersey is one of two retired by the university; the other belongs to NBA great John Stockton.
"He was a legend on two courts," said Chief U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle. "In both venues, he distinguished himself as a person of great talent and great humility, beloved by the people he played and worked with."
A genial, funny man, Burgess came to Gonzaga from the Air Force, where he was named to the All-Air Force team. His 30-point ave rage attracted the attention of scouts from basketball powers such as Kansas and the University of Southern California, but he spurned them for Gonzaga, a small Jesuit school in Spokane that was just transitioning its basketball program to Division I.
He said Gonzaga's promise of a stellar education won him over.
"I had gotten out of the service and I was married with twin girls," he told The News Tribune newspaper six years ago. "I was about getting an education and taking care of my family."
Burgess scored at least 40 points seven times, and his 52-point effort against California-Davis in 1961 remains a school record.
"I'm convinced that if they'd had a 3-point line in those days, Frank would have averaged 40 or 50 points a game," Charlie Jordan, a teammate of Burgess, told The Spokesman-Review in 2005 when Burgess' number was retired. "He could drive it, too, but so many of his shots were from the outside and he was just a tremendous shooter."
The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Burgess in the third round, but he opted instead for the fledgling American Basketball League, a precursor to the American Basketball Association, where he played two seasons with the Hawaii Chiefs before returning to Gonzaga for law school.
Burgess graduated near the top of his class and became an assistant prosecutor in Tacoma, where he once chased down a defendant who fled a courtroom. After a stint in private practice, he became a federal magistrate judge in 1981 and was elevated to the District Court bench in Tacoma in 1994. All along, he continued playing basketball with other Tacoma lawyers at the old YWCA.
Burgess handled prominent cases including a challenge to Washington's primary election system, an attempt to block whale-hunting by the Makah Tribe, and the trial of Briana Waters, who was convicted in a devastating 2001 ecoterror fire at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture.
Over the last 1 2 years, Burgess involved himself more with Gonzaga basketball, attending games when he could and meeting with players in the locker room, athletic director Mike Roth said.
"What he did after he was done playing was so special," Roth told The Spokesman. "There aren't a lot of guys appointed by a president to be a judge. And giving back - until he got sick, he worked every Wednesday for Habitat for Humanity. He'd get in his jeans, strap on the tool belt and out he went. He was a special, special man."
Memorial arrangements are pending.