As First Woman To Lead DU Board Of Trustees, Joy Burns Leaves Lasting Legacy At School And Beyond

Joy Burns
Joy Burns was the first woman to lead the University of Denver’s Board of Trustees. She died July 17, 2020 at 92.

Joy Burns, the first woman to chair the University of Denver’s Board of Trustees died Friday afternoon at 92 years old.

“The University has had few better friends than Joy,” Chancellor Jeremy Haefner wrote in a release. “Much as she was admired for her leadership qualities, she was also loved for her many kindnesses and for her indefatigable support of student achievement.” 

Burns had two stints as a board chair from 1990-2005 and 2007-2009. She joined the DU Board of Trustees originally in 1981 and became one of the longest-serving trustees in DU’s history when she retired in 2017. When she stepped down as a chair in 2009, Chancellor Robert Coombe nominated her for an honorary doctorate of higher education and she accepted.

During her time on the board, she helped launch one of the most successful capital campaigns in the university’s history. She helped the university raise more than $400 million in investments in new facilities and infrastructure.

In 1997, she and her husband, Franklin Burns — a DU alumnus — donated $5 million to the school to establish the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management.

One of her first dates with her husband was at a DU hockey game, which began her involvement with the university. DU credits Burns with bringing the college into Division I. In 1997, she was inducted into the DU Sports Hall of Fame.

Many of the buildings at the University of Denver showcase Joy Burns’ name. Those include the building for Fritz Knoebel School of Hospitality Management, a plaza in the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts and on the community ice area at the Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness.

The university awarded her with the Founders Medal, the college’s highest honor for her service at the annual Founders Gala in March 2018. 

“The University of Denver owes a lot to Joy Burns, to her fierce spirit, fearless leadership, and her dedication to our students,” Haefner wrote. “She was a bright light and a force to be reckoned with. She will be sorely missed.” 

Burns’ impact reached outside of DU as well. When she was the only female gubernatorial appointee to the Metropolitan Football Stadium Board, she was considered the most powerful woman in Colorado sports. She was also part-owner of the Colorado Xplosion women’s professional basketball team and served as the president of the Sportswomen of Colorado Foundation. As an advocate for women’s issues, she was one of the founders of Women’s Bank — later renamed the Colorado Business Bank — and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

She also had a successful business career. She developed, owned and operated the Burnsley Hotel, formerly known as the Hampshire House, in downtown Denver. She ended up selling it in 2012 for $10 million and it’s now a residential apartment complex. She also took over her husband’s firm, D.C. Burns Realty & Co, in 1995 two years before he died. She’s also served on the board of the Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as a few task forces and bureaus designed to foster business in the city.

A date for a celebration of her life will be announced at a later time.