Baldwin “BG” Burr loved New Mexico, he adored Valencia County and he treasured its history.
On Friday, Sept. 27, Burr died peacefully at the age of 73 in Albuquerque after a long illness.
Burr, of Tomé, was a historian, a photographer, an author and publisher, a teacher and devoted family man.
He leaves behind is wife of 27 years, Laura,; daughter, Ali, and granddaughter, Anastasia; stepchildren, Annie Adams and Dylan Gilbert; and countless admirers of his spoken word, his inspirational photography, his enduring humor and his enthusiasm for euphemisms.
Burr first came to New Mexico when he attended the Philmont Scout Ranch in the early 1960s. He fell in love with The Land of Enchantment and decided this is where he wanted to spend the rest of his life.
“He loved history; it was everything to him,” said Jan Micaletti, museum specialist at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Art. “He loved Valencia County. He wasn’t a native but he knew more about it and its history than most. He gave his heart here, and he was a big part big part of the museum.”
Cynthia Shetter, the director of the Los Lunas Public Library and Museum of Heritage and Arts, said Burr was hired as the contract historian after Patty Guginno retired. She remembers Burr always having a great smile on his face and having a way with words.
“He always had the best euphemisms, but we couldn’t remember them all,” Shetter said. “We always told him he needed to write a book about them.”
Shetter said Burr had a great relationship with the people who he gave tours to at the museum — making them comfortable and giving them something only he could.
“He would give tours for the school children and he sat them down and talked to them about the importance of history,” she said. “He was spreading his love of history to other people.”
Not only would he give people tours at the museum, but he would give different presentations about the area and different topics. His favorite and best known was about Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize–winning American journalist and war correspondent who is best known for his stories about ordinary American soldiers during World War II. Pyle moved to Albuquerque in June 1940, and was killed in 1945 by enemy fire during the Battle of Okinawa.
Burr’s wife, Laura, who he met at a Valencia County Literacy Council fundraiser in 1992, said he could have taken his Ernie Pyle presentation nationally if he had the motivation.
“He got rave reviews everywhere he went,” Laura said.
“His Ernie Pyle was the greatest one-man act,” said fellow historian and author, John Taylor. “He did it perfectly. Not only did he look like the guy but he captured his essence. Ernie Pyle was a very unique war correspondent, embedded with the guys in the trenches, and BG just captured him perfectly.”
Richard Melzer agrees, saying Burr’s greatest role was that of Pyle.
“It was just tremendous how he could use the image on the screen in relation to his acting,” said Melzer, a fellow historian, author and college instructor. “At the end of the presentation, I’ve seen crowd after crowd just crying. They were inspired.”
Both Melzer and Taylor collaborated with Burr on at least one book, “Notable and Notorious Neighbors in Valencia County,” which was published by Burr’s publishing company, TechKnowledge Press. Both men say his passion for New Mexico and Valencia County history was immeasurable.
Laura said her husband decided to form his own publishing company to help local authors.
“He saw a need for someone to help people who wanted to publish things like their memoirs or smaller publications,” Laura said. “He could connect writers he knew to get their books published and they could sell them themselves.”
Laura said her husband was a consummate researcher and loved the challenge of learning about what interested him, whether it be about jazz, digitized audio files, fire arms and even fly fishing.
“He loved learning and loved researching topics of interest,” she said. “He wouldn’t just learn a little bit about something he learned about it in-depth.”
Laura said he loved everything about New Mexico, and was so enamored with the state that he rarely traveled outside New Mexico.
“I think his love and enthusiasm was about everything of New Mexico,” said Melzer, who first met Burr in 1983 when they were both working at UNM-Valencia campus. “He explained things through wonderful anecdotes; he had a great, effective voice. He used it to engage people in the things he was interested in, whether it be photography, computers or history.”
“His passion for history grew out of his passion for photography, which was his specialty,” Taylor said. “He was a man of imagery, not only in a photograph but in his writing. That’s so important to capture for people. He had a great ability to grab a topic and gel it down to its essentials and give it imagery.”
Taylor, who would play spades once a month with Burr, their wives and others for years, said he visited Burr a day before his death and said he was in good spirits.
“We went out in the garden, and we sat in the sun,” Taylor said. “He leaned his head back and smiled. He was an outdoors kind of guy. I’ll remember that smile and it’s one I’ll always treasure.”
For the past several years, Taylor and Burr would help with the annual Saints and Sinner Tour, where people would hear about the history of some of Valencia County’s oldest churches. Taylor said Burr was particularly good at describing the San Antonio Mission Church on Los Lentes.
“He would tell people they were standing in a place where people stood 200 years ago,” Taylor said. “He described it as a time machine, saying, ‘You’re in a space that has been occupied, used and cherished for centuries,’” he said. “People were moved by his imagery.”
Burr taught computer science, mass communications and film history at The University of New Mexico; computer programming and advanced database design at The College of Santa Fe; and taught at the Solar Photovoltaic Academy at Central New Mexico Community College. In 1998, he was named Teacher of the Year at UNM-Valencia.
He was a member of the Historical Society of New Mexico, the Central New Mexico Corral of Westerners International, the Valencia County Historical Society, the Madison County (Ohio) Historical Society and the Los Alamos Historical Society.
Burr authored “Images of America: Los Lunas,” “Images of America: Belen,” “Images of America: Socorro” and “Images of America: Historic Ranches of Northeastern New Mexico,” published by Arcadia Publishing, and “Southwest by Midwest,” the catalog of the exhibition of his photographs at the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts.
In March, he was given the Rio Abajo Award by the Valencia County Historical Society for being a person “all about history.”
In 2013, Burr told the News-Bulletin he always loved history, saying his interest began with his family in Ohio.
“I was interested in history from time I was 4 or 5,” Burr said. “My family are Ohio pioneers. I grew up on a farm that had been in my family since 1805. History was all around me.”
Plans for a celebration of life are pending.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.