Emory Report
June 12, 2006
Volume 58, Number 32


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June 12 , 2006
Life after retirement

by eric rangus

Prior to coming to Emory in 2001, Louis Burton spent 22 years in the Air Force. He enlisted right out of high school, and he retired as a senior master sergeant—the second highest enlisted rank attainable.

Burton served all over the world from two bases in Virginia, to Hawaii, to the Republic of Korea (where he was stationed for a year), to Atlanta and even a three-month stint in Jordan in 1997 where his unit was responsible for enforcing the no-fly zone in Iraq.

Also while in the service, Burton earned two academic degrees, a bachelor’s of business administration from St. Leo University and a master’s degree in health care management from the Florida Institute of Technology (both Florida-based schools have multiple campuses on military installations … Burton literally did his undergraduate work all over the world). He had a purpose.

“I didn’t want to be one of those people who said, ‘I’m out of the military, now I’m going to school,’” said Burton, senior business manager for the Department of Emergency Medicine and president of the Employee Council for 2005–06. “I wanted to complete my education while I was in and hit the ground running when I got out of the military,” Burton continued. And that’s exactly what he did.

One month after he retired, Burton had a yearlong fellowship with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC). A native of Virginia, Burton spent his last two years in the service in Atlanta; he and his wife enjoyed it so much that, when he retired he decided to stay.

Burton had a strong academic background in healthcare and solid administration and management experience, but little practical healthcare experience. The fellowship changed that.

Burton worked on a project that set up community-based clinics for veterans. That way they could see a healthcare provider without having to come into the VAMC. It was a joint venture with Emory Healthcare—an entity that eventually caught Burton’s eye.

“I didn’t know a lot about Emory before working at the VA,” he said. “But every day driving to work, I’d see Emory University and the pristine grounds. And I knew Emory was one of the largest employers in the city, so I was drawn to it.”

So after spending one year at the VAMC, Burton applied for a job with Emory and got it with the Department of Emergency Medicine—at Grady Hospital. A demanding position, where every day has different challenges, Burton has responded well and relishes the opportunity he has been given.

After a couple of years on staff and as senior business manager, a position opened on the Employee Council and Burton took it. Midway through his first year, he was encouraged to run for president. He was elected.
“It’s been a learning experience,” Burton said. “Being on the Grady campus, I’m somewhat isolated. But since I’ve been on the council, I’ve been able to look at all the issues Emory-wide, not just from the Grady point of view. I have been able to see where the administration fits in, learn about all the other commissions and how the [University] Senate works. It’s been a great experience.”

When Burton took over the council presidency last year, he asked members to do four things: get involved, have commitment, be passionate and work as a team. They succeeded on all fronts. The council moved forward with its strategic planning initiatives, which brought a staff perspective to the effort, and they also worked to improve communication and coordination among the other University governance entities on campus, which too often have worked in isolation.

For instance, the council and the President’s Commission on the Status of Women are working on a joint effort related to family care issues. And next year, for the first time, there will be a quarterly leadership group meeting involving the council, the president’s commissions, the University Senate, the Student Government Association and the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.

Burton said the council is becoming more proactive. Reaching out to work with the president’s commissions was just one way. Another is through the council’s and commissions’ brown bag series. In previous years, the council held only occasional brown bags that dealt with certain issues of interest to staff (and the Emory community as a whole). The council also hosted a pair of annual town halls with President Jim Wagner, which were consistent successes.

For the 2005–06 year, the council has expanded the series, and for its subject matter, chose wisely. The council and commissions looked at concerns that came out of the 2005 Campus Climate Survey and worked to address them. Three have taken place so far—sessions on hiring practices at Emory, an overview of the climate survey and an overview of Equal Opportunity Programs and Employee Relations with a fourth one to follow at the end of this month.

Burton said it’s a way to improve communication across the University. “When we heard about things going on at Emory, we put out communications to the owners of those processes and tried to connect with them.” Prime among those connections is Human Resources, a department which with Burton stays in frequent contact. “We have been able to give input to the benefits process, so it hasn’t become an ‘us vs. them’ situation.”

Burton also has been an important voice for the Emory community at Grady, who number more than 1,000 staff, faculty and residents. He has been able to be an advocate for his co-workers regarding issues ranging from shuttles between the main campus and Grady and general communication between the two entities.

The year’s fourth council-sponsored brown bag centering on security will take place at Grady on Tuesday, June 27 at noon in Steiner Auditorium. It will bring together security experts from both Grady and Emory who will give a primer on how staff can protect their person and property. That will be the last event of Burton’s year as president. He rotates off this summer.

Looking toward his post-presidency, Burton has another year remaining in his term as Past President and he said he wants to make sure the transition is smooth for the incoming council President Ron Gatlin. “The council job is very demanding, so [afterward] I’ll be able to focus more on my core job,” he said. (Translation: “I don’t ever regret doing it, I really enjoyed it, but being council president is a TOUGH job!” This is not an uncommon feeling among past council presidents.) Burton said “I was elected to the position and took very seriously the commitment to council members and university staff. I was not going to let anyone down.”
Burton was complementary not only to the administrators and faculty of emergency medicine for giving him the flexibility to perform his council responsibilities, but he also was grateful to the council’s executive committee, a group of advisers and other council leaders without whose support and assistance his job would have been much harder if not impossible.

And despite all the subtext, Burton has no intention of retreating. “I still want to be involved in the Emory community regarding staff issues,” he said. “I am still a staff member and I take these issues personally. I’d be happy to sit on committees or help in any way I can. I want to make sure I’m still involved.”