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James Tilson Burgess, 87, Corvallis, MT


James Tilson Burgess

James Tilson Burgess, Jim, was born in Williston, North Dakota on January 29, 1926 to Thomas Orlando and Hazel Tilson Burgess. At an early age, the family moved to Fairview, Montana and then to Sidney where he attended grade school and graduated from high school in 1943. That same summer, at 17, he joined the navy. He received his training in San Diego and in Texas. He attended Sonar School and was very proud to have been the “Sonar Man,” looking for enemy submarines on the USS Edwin A. Howard. He served in the South Pacific, including the Philippines, for several years.

After his discharge, he attended the University of Montana. During this time, he felt privileged to travel to New York and hear the beginnings of some of the finest blues and jazz singers in America. In 1951 he met Dorothy Beck, who was teaching at the Sidney School. They were married on December 27, 1951. In 1954 he and Dorothy moved to Bakersfield, California where he began working for the Social Security Administration, though he would continue to pursue his love of education throughout his life with classes, reading and his own study of Montana history. He was transferred to several offices throughout the Rocky Mountain West before finally moving to Missoula, Montana where he eventually retired.

His interests were many and varied. He enjoyed the beautiful outdoors through fishing—even tying his own flies—hunting, hiking the mountains, biking, gold panning and camping out. His own home always showed the touch of his skill with carpentry, woodworking and organic gardening. His greatest joy, however, came from his family. He and his wife enjoyed 61+ years together. They raised two children and helped guide four grandchildren. Their son, James Beck Burgess, M.D. and his wife Dee Burgess reside in Tempe, Arizona with their two sons, Jonathon and Joshua while his daughter, Janet Burgess Sager, works as a microbiologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, and her two adult children, Daniel and Caitlin Sager, live in Missoula.

Jim was preceded in death by his parents, his older brother Thomas Burgess, his older sister Dorothy Sarpola and by one nephew.

A memorial service will be held at the Daly-Leach Chapel on Wednesday, October 2nd at 2:00 pm with the Reverend Dusty Williams officiating. A reception will follow the services at the same location. 

The family suggests that memorials be made to Corvallis United Methodist Church or to the charity of the donor’s choice.


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