H. Burton Housman

HousmanH. Burton Housman, 91, on January 12, 2019, in San Diego, Calif. Burton was born on January 23, 1927, in Dallas, Tex. At 14, he saved his allowance, rode his bicycle four miles to a nearby airport, and earned a pilot’s license with flying lessons on a Piper J-3 Cub. Near the end of World War II, he served in the armed forces in airborne electronics. He attended the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Oberlin College. Active in the Student Christian Movement, he met people with an understanding that the horizontal arm of the cross reaches out to care for others, as the vertical arm represents devotion. He spent three years in Japan in a Methodist workcamp, living with a Japanese family and learning Japanese. Working with Japanese youth to clean up debris from fire bombs in Osaka, he picked up glass from kindergarten windows that had been melted by the fires. He said, “I looked at the world through that melted glass, seeing a promise that could be realized only if the constant search for alternatives to war were never abandoned.” He met Joanna Ayers at Pendle Hill study center in Wallingford, Pa., and they married, raising four children.

After earning a bachelor’s from Harvard Divinity School, he taught at Olney Friends School, saying later that these years were his most trying and happiest years as a teacher. He marched in Selma, Ala., with Martin Luther King Jr., taught at small schools, worked in the Caltech YMCA program, and became a community organizer. In 1971, when designing the Beverly Hills Maple Center community counseling program, he met Mary Jo Mc Dermoth, and in 1978 they married under the care of Orange Grove Meeting in Pasadena, Calif. In 1980–84 he taught at Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan.

He wrote articles for several Quaker periodicals, including Friends Journal. Holding close to the Quaker queries, he thought the Quaker advices too “preachy.” In La Jolla (Calif.) Meeting, he served on several committees and always made newcomers feel welcome. When once asked about his faith, he answered, “Psalm 103 and Augustine say it all.”

In his 80s, he volunteered for several years with the Armed Forces YMCA at the naval hospital in San Diego, where he helped catastrophically wounded active duty U.S. Marines write about their lives. He worked with the San Diego Islamic Center and became good friends with the Imam and his family. In his last years, he studied Spanish and visited the Casa de Los Amigos in Mexico City several times, his last trip only months before his stroke. He visited all meetings in Southern California Quarter to advocate for funds for San Diego Friends to visit the Casa, and requested travel expenses for Mexico City Quakers to visit California Quarter.

He named as his proudest professional accomplishments his work at the Beverly Hills Maple Center; being invited to Olney Friends School class reunions for 1962, ’63 and ’64; and giving the Hebrew Oration at his Harvard commencement. His deep integrity, which as always with integrity, came at a price. He had a keen intellect; a wide curiosity; and a robust sense of humor, recognizing himself as an honorary Jew and an honorary Muslim. He and Mary Jo were blessed to share 40 years together and were each other’s compass and guiding light.

While he was a patient at Sharp Acute Rehabilitation Center and unable to receive visitors, Friends from La Jolla and San Diego Meetings, his daughter, and friends worshiped weekly outside his room. It was a profound healing time. Friends greatly miss Burton’s presence.

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