Marie Bur­nett: she lived, laughed, loved and left a huge hole in our hearts

We are sad to announce the death of Marie Bur­nett, co-founder of SOFII, trustee, com­pa­ny sec­re­tary, hon­orary trea­sur­er and vol­un­tary edi­tor in chief. She passed away peace­ful­ly on Thurs­day 6th June 2019. Her hus­band Ken Bur­nett, co-founder of SOFII and man­ag­ing trustee, was by her side as always. Char­lie and Joe, her grown up sons, sup­port­ed Ken and Marie through her illness.

Written by
Sue Kershaw
June 12, 2019
Marie Burnett

I knew I liked Marie from the first time I met her. 

I had gone to Ken and Marie's London flat for a meeting about working for SOFII. She was warm and friendly and made me feel welcome. My first impression as we talked was that she was no pushover and that she had a sharp intellect. And very soon afterwards I started in my role as development director. 

I experienced more of her gracious hospitality at my first meeting with the other trustees of SOFII. After some business chat, lubricated with some excellent wine from Ken's collection, we sat down to a delicious meal cooked by Marie. It was to be the first of many enjoyable trustee meetings.

I knew I loved Marie after the very first I Wish I'd Thought Of That (IWITOT) event in London in 2012. 

I was a nervous wreck and worried about every small detail. I nearly had a heart attack when the remote control to operate the slide decks started playing up (doofer-gate!) and we had to resort to manually clicking on a laptop. Luckily the event was a big success and we had the right mix of voices old and new. More importantly, the fundraisers who attended really seemed to enjoy the afternoon and loved the novelty of the rapid-fire presentations. 

IWITOT was followed by a networking drinks reception. I was so relieved it was over that I practically inhaled several glasses of wine. I'd neglected to eat all day and was soon feeling the effect. Marie took care of me and dragged me to the nearest restaurant with Karin Weatherup (who was then creative director at Burnett Works and had been one of the IWITOT speakers). I inhaled even more wine as we chatted with much profanity and put the world to rights whilst I gorged on a big burger and chips. I managed to fall asleep on the train, miss my stop, woke up with some attractive drool on my chin and had to get a taxi home at the end of line because it was the last train! The day after I was really touched when a beautiful bunch of flowers was delivered to my home from Marie and Ken to say thank you and well done.

Team photo at the first IWITOT: Sue Kershaw, Marie Burnett, Ken Burnett and Carolina Herrera. Marie didn't like that she appeared to be the only one with a glass in her hand (mine's just out of shot!)

As a work colleague Marie was always supportive and gave generously of her free time working as a voluntary editor in chief for SOFII. She copychecked everything and ensured that all SOFII published material was kept to high editorial standards. Our website is used by fundraisers all over the world and many of them do not have English as their first language. It's mostly thanks to Marie that the case studies and articles on the website are largely jargon free and use plain English.

Marie was a professional editor having worked in this role at Academic Press Inc and other publishing companies. She was also formerly editorial director of Burnett Associates (the marketing and communications agency that Ken and Marie started in the early 1980s that grew to employ around 100 people). Burnett Associates was sold in 1999 and they set up White Lion Press a small specialist publishing business.

In 2007, Ken and Marie were on the Heathrow Express heading for Australia, for an annual visit to work with Pareto Fundraising there. They were talking about the growth of the Internet, and the absence of a museum of fundraising. Inspired by recent work with Book Aid Ken had the idea for MOFII, the Museum of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (a la MOMI, the Museum of the Moving Image). Marie thought it should be more forward looking, and more fun. So SOFII was born in 2008 (see full story here).

Yes we posed with love balls...

Marie's big smile could light up the room and she was always great fun to be around. I will always treasure my memories of the time we spent together on a girls trip to Baltimore in 2015.

SOFII had been invited to run an IWITOT event at the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference. Ken, Marie and I were due to travel to Baltimore together - Ken was due to give a separate presentation as well as act as MC for IWITOT. Disaster struck at the last moment when Ken's visa was refused (not because he's a criminal or undesirable but because of a historic visa problem when he travelled to the USA from Canada). Marie bravely volunteered to replace Ken at IWITOT. And she was brilliant.

Here's what she wrote to Roger Craver who has recently written a wonderful 'motivational blurb' about her:

'I did it! I didn’t faint, throw up over the great and the good wandering around wearing medals (what’s that about?) or generally make a complete prat of myself. 
I exaggerate, but only slightly. It was in the bar after the weirdest dinner I have ever attended. It mainly consisted of men with sculpted hair and very smart suits making long-winded speeches saying how wonderful they are. It would have been a yawn-fest had it not been so ridiculous.
And medals were being dished out. If you, Ken and Jennie Thompson had been there we would have had a great laugh. Except there was no wine provided – this was not funny.'

Marie and I spent most of the conference slightly bewildered by the differences in approach and culture. But it was also fascinating and a great experience. Our AFP hosts looked after us well. I was fortunate to be invited to be her plus one at an evening with Harvey McKinnon and we enjoyed a drinking session with Daryl Upsall on another night. The wine flowed and Marie and I shared stories before stumbling back to our hotel rooms.

When Ken and Marie first told me about her illness we had a good cry together. But it wasn't her style to feel sorry for herself. Here's what she wrote to me at the end of last year:

'I  am really quite lucky and overall have had a great year. Now I get breathless and have a bit of a cough, but apart from that I am fine and hate being treated as an invalid. I spend a lot of time in Suffolk now because most of the people are used to seeing this stick insect quaffing red wine in the pub and have got rather bored with the whole thing, which is good.' 

Marie was feisty to the end and I will miss her.

About the author: Sue Kershaw

There is a community that welcomes all fundraisers who want to learn from the best (and even a seasoned fundraiser can learn a new trick or two). Sue was delighted to discover that it is SOFII where sharing what you know can help the sector as a whole and a cornucopia of fundraising treasure is available for free. Sue's career in fundraising has included Oxfam, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, Barts Hospital, The Refugee Council and The Children's Society. Sue was part of the SOFII team from 2011 to 2019 and continues to be a supporter and fan. 

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