Former Hays County Judge and long-time Hays County leader William “Bud” Burnett dies at 82

Judge William Walter “Bud” Burnet, died Saturday, Dec. 27 peacefully in his sleep at his ranch in Duran, New Mexico, after a several year battle with Parkinson’s Disease.

Burnett, 82, was a four-term Hays County Judge and although his first loves were ranching cattle and nurturing his family, his calling for public service benefits Hays County to this day.

His death followed that of his beloved wife, Frances Fleming Burnett by only 13 days.

Born in San Marcos on July 12, 1938, the son of Walter John and Willie Maude Nolen Burnett, Burnett split his time between his family’s cattle ranch on the Blanco River outside Wimberley, and San Marcos, where he attended school.

He spent many happy summers and holidays on the ranch with his sisters, Kathleen and Mary, fishing in the Blanco River and hunting game when he wasn’t working.

Following his graduation from San Marcos High School in 1956, Burnett attended Southwest Texas State College (now Texas State University), earning a bachelor’s degree in history. He was very active in the choir and drama departments.

At SWT, Burnett met his wife, Kay Elizabeth Franz. Following his graduation and marriage, he continued to work in the family’s ranching business, which was established in Hays County in 1911 by his great-grandparents. Burnett raised and sold cattle and was an excellent horseman and cowboy. The couple lived at the family ranch working the cattle and land until their first child, Susan Elizabeth, was born in 1962.

They moved to San Marcos where they had two more children, William (Bill) and Wade. The family spent many summers taking a camper to Colorado and New Mexico where they fished, explored, and told stories around the campfire. In 1983, with their youngest son, Wade, Burnett and Kay restored and modernized the old rock ranch house in Wimberley and moved into it.

“Bud, “as he was known to all, followed in the family footsteps of his paternal grandfather and uncle, and entered politics. He was elected County Judge in 1973 and served for 12 years, winning reelection easily three times.

Burnett served on numerous civic, non-profit and business boards of directors in Hays County and throughout Central Texas. He chaired the national search committee that brought Jerry Supple to the presidency of Southwest Texas State University.

His efforts that led to bringing Central Texas Medical Center to San Marcos, providing quality healthcare for Hays County and the Central Texas region.

Burnett also made contributions to the community through his work for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative, which first brought electricity to the rural Texas Hill Country in the late 1930s. Like his father before him, Burnett served on the PEC board of directors, 37 years as president. He was the chief negotiator with the LCRA as the co-op purchased electricity for the PEC membership. No one won an argument against Judge Burnett! 

He oversaw PEC’s growth into the largest electric cooperative in the United States with more than 700 employees and 200,000 members.

In 2006, Burnett was named a Distinguished Alumnus of San Marcos High School by the San Marcos Education Foundation in recognition of his achievements, strength of character and outstanding citizenship and for serving as a role model to inspire and challenge today’s youth.

Burnett had been an active member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and is the past president of the Southwest Texas State University Development Foundation.

Burnett’s marriage to Kay ended in 1991and the two remained close friends. In 1996, after retiring from public service, Burnett married his high school sweetheart Francis Fleming. Together, they built a home on a bluff overlooking the Blanco near the old rock ranch house, and later, restored an old, adobe ranch house at the cattle ranch in Duran, New Mexico. They enjoyed traveling and filling their homes with antiques and Frances’ artwork. Burnett continued ranching, using innovative techniques to restore native grasses and improve cattle ranching techniques.

After becoming seriously ill with the last stages of Parkinson’s Disease earlier this year, Burnett chose to spend his final months at the ranch in Duran where he was lovingly cared for by his fellow ranchers and friends, David and Taleisha Crabb. They made it possible for him to be in the place he loved most when he passed away.

Walter was preceded in death by his mother, Willie Maude Nolen Burnett; father, Walter John Burnett; Uncle and “second father,” William Matthew Burnett; wife Frances; first wife Kay, son, Wade and daughter-in-law Charelle Burnett.

He is survived by his children, Susan Burnett of Austin and Bill Burnett of Dripping Springs; grandchildren Laura Betrián Waelbroeck and husband Iñigo Betrián González, William Walter Burnett III., and Ainsley Grace Burnett; sisters Kathleen Olive and husband Bob, Mary Nabers; and nephews Jonathan, Robert, and Brian Olive, and Joel, Chris, and Matt Nabers.

Memorials may be made to The Michael J. Fox Foundation, P.O. Box 5014, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5014. A celebration of life will be held later in 2021.


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