What’s in A Name? – Burnett Hall

Burnett Hall is one of the eight original buildings constructed when Armstrong’s southside campus was completed in 1965. Many alumni remember it as the Administration Building; however, in 2005, it was formally dedicated as Robert Adair Burnett Hall to honor the service and memory of the fifth president of Armstrong State College.

Joe Buck, the Savannah-Chatham County school board president, spent 39 years on the Armstrong Campus. He served in a variety of positions before retiring in 2006 as vice president for student affairs emeritus.

“Dr. Burnett would have been humbled by the building being named for him,” Buck said. “He was a leader who loved to see others get the credit and never put a lot of emphasis on his own awards. Dr. Burnett came to Armstrong originally from the University of Louisville where he had served as the campus ombudsman, a role that helped define who he was. He was a great peacemaker and always worked to make certain that everyone was heard and satisfied. That is a difficult role on a university campus but he did it extremely well.”

Burnett joined Armstrong in 1978 as a professor of history and rose through the ranks. A native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, he was appointed president in 1984 and retired from the position in 1999.

Remembered as a visionary leader, Burnett expanded Armstrong’s enrollment, academic offerings, finances, facilities, athletics programs and strengthened ties with alumni and the Savannah community. More than 25 academic programs were developed under his leadership, including physical therapy and speech language pathology. Enrollment more than doubled to 5,700 students. Two new buildings were constructed: the Sports Center and University Hall, and two classroom buildings received major renovations. A year before he retired, Armstrong received approval for a new science center and student residence complex. Both were completed in 2002. Buck said one of his “proudest achievements was getting housing on the campus to serve the needs of out-of-town students.” 

The Armstrong president was a strong supporter of public and community service, and he served on many nonprofit boards, professional and community organizations. 

“He was a special gentleman because his enthusiasm was always so evident,” Buck said. “He and his wife, Mary, who was the perfect ‘First Lady,’ loved Armstrong and came together to all events. Their daughter, Wendy, was a graduate and they were very proud of that. When the Burnetts were awarded the honorary doctorates, they were overcome with pride. It was always with great affection that we saw the Burnetts at all athletic events sporting their Armstrong paraphernalia. His big smile was always evident.”

Today, Burnett Hall houses an Office of the President, human resources, alumni and advancement. Burnett’s portrait hangs in the lobby of the building where he led Armstrong for so many years.

— Sandra Bennett