The usual adage, “like father, like son” is a familiar one; however, in this instance, there is also a daughter who has in amazing ways walked in the footsteps of her father. We honor the philosophy and lives of both Romie Burt, Sr. for his outstanding life and his youngest daughter, Orlean Burt Newton who is following in his footsteps working on our Friends of the Museums Board these past 10 years and making other contributions to life in Fuquay-Varina.
While all the children exemplify some of the outstanding traits of their father, the museums are honored to recognize the one of them who has earned our “most like her father” title. Orlean has been involved with the Friends of the Museums for the entire ten years of our work. For our benefit, we are recognizing her to be “like father, like daughter” for all the people and the Town of Fuquay-Varina.
The youngest daughter, Orlean, graduated from Fuquay Consolidated High School among the distinguished Class of 1960. Senior superlatives named her “Most Popular Girl”, and “Best All Around Girl”. Her four years as a cheerleader earned her distinction as “Most School Spirit.” She also participated in the Jabberwok, sponsored by the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. They voted her “Miss Most Likely to Succeed” among their ranks.
Since Golia had first belonged to First Baptist Church and moved to Bazzel Creek with her husband, Orlean along with the other children went to both churches for alternating Sunday services. Orlean loved music, Sunday School, and joined both her church choir and the high school glee club.
With steadfast encouragement from her parents, she won a scholarship and was graduated from North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University) earning her degree in Business Education. When a recruiter from the U. S. government offered her a job in Washington, D.C., she was led to choose that area for better career opportunities.
Limitations upon upward mobility were definitely felt in her family in the segregated south.
Like Romie, she was a pioneer, becoming the first African American to work in the office of the director in one of her positions at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. Between 1964-2002, Orlean worked in the nation’s capital as a secretary, a claims examiner and later as a workers’ compensation specialist. She conducted many training sessions though out the US and also at Guantanamo Bay and in Germany.
The character traits she observed in her dad prompted her to value and seek community involvement. Always interested in vocal music, Orlean sang with the 200 voice National Christian Choir, an “audition only” group with occasional tours and in her own church choir at Forest Heights Baptist Church in Oxon Hill, Maryland. She joined the Black Political Women In Action. Service to others and working with people she credits to her father’s influence.
Orlean married Larry Newton Sr., her college sweetheart, from whom she was later divorced. She is the mother of one son, Larry Newton, Jr. who works in the biopharmaceuticals industry which encompasses biotechnology and pharmaceuticals in Los Angeles, California. During his growing up years she and her son made frequent trips home. Larry travels a lot with his job; Orlean enjoys visiting him when possible.
On the occasion of Romie Burt’s 98th birthday in 2001, she arrived home to find two EMS trucks in the yard of her childhood home. Orlean accompanied her mother as she was transported to the hospital. Golia suffered an aneurysm on the aorta and died that night at Wake Med in Cary. During the next months , Orlean and Dazell along with Etta were back and forth caring for their dad.
Burt had been married to Golia 65 years, when she died and left him alone. At 98 years, Romie’s health required a caregiver. Orlean arranged to retire and return to North Carolina and Fuquay-Varina. Retirement brought her permanently in 2002 to live with her dad on Railroad Street. Just as Romie had assumed responsibility for his family as a young man, she shouldered the mantle of caregiver in his life.
Much of this time, Romie used a walker and needed support with the supplying of his physical needs. During this period, the family continued his annual birthday celebrations. Blessed with a sharp mind, much of his philosophy was documented by writers of the Independent. Many citizens shared in these special parties.
At his death in 2006, the eulogy in St. Augusta Missionary Baptist Church was attended by a multitude of the town’s residents. Many distinguished friends took part in his service. Dr. Lorenzo A. Lynch came from Durham to officiate, joined by Rev. Robert A. Horne of Bazzel Creek Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Harold F. Trice of Union Chapel Baptist Church in Butner, and Rev. Dr. Marvin Connelly, Jr. Pastor of St. Augusta Missionary Baptist Church. Remarks were also given by Mayor John Byrne, Dr. Leonzo D. Lynch, Second VP of the General Baptist Convention of NC and Pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Charlotte, medical Dr. George C. Debnam of Raleigh, and Rev. Michael Cotten of Fuquay-Varina Jubilee Church. He was praised for strength, resilience, and wisdom. Sons Dennis and Walter had preceded him in death as had all his siblings except Sadie Dennis. Burial was at Carolina Biblical Gardens in Garner.
Orlean says she always hoped to return to her roots in Fuquay-Varina. Fuquay-Varina is blessed that Orlean not only just returned but became actively involved in our town. Among her first efforts was membership in the Fuquay-Varina Community Development Corporation to save the Fuquay Consolidated School buildings. She remains active in the efforts to preserve the history of that school.
Joining Wake Chapel Christian Church, she became the first African-American member and is a faithful voice in the Chancel Choir. She is a member of the Chapel Bible Sunday School Class, and the Maranatha Circle at Wake Chapel.
With Women’s Priority Associates, she is a member of the Strategic Core Group, meeting monthly to pray and plan a luncheon/program which serves the needs of women (both churched and unchurched). The purpose of a Priority Luncheon is to provide a strategic entry point for women to hear a personal testimony about how a relationship with Jesus Christ changes lives.
In 2009, the citizens named to the Centennial Commission to plan the Town’s centennial events included Orlean Burt Newton. She actively attended monthly meetings for a year and was part of all the celebratory events. At year’s end, she joined other insightful members of the Centennial Commission who organized to preserve the collections from the centennial by incorporation into the Friends of the Museums of Fuquay-Varina, a 501 c 3 non profit.
Led by Larry Bennett, first president, Orlean was elected secretary of the Friends of the Museums, holding that office from 2010-2018. Orlean’s commitment to the Friends of the Museums which she has championed since its inception finds her currently President of the Board. Monthly meetings of the Friends for ten years, fundraising projects, Heritage Days and Town Festivals and all the minutia of details associated with the museums have brought no wavering in her dedication.
Additionally, she has trained and served as one of the docents who actually manned the stations at the museums until interrupted by Covid 19. However, she is still actively seeking space for expansion and a broad, more diverse collection of artifacts and archives. Along with other officers, she has taken advantage of the year to attend webinars to improve the non-profit operation. Financial stability and substantial community support remain major goals in 2021.
To a person, we, the members of the Friends Board who serve with her admire the numerous qualities which many citizens note were found in her father. Orlean is faithful to her commitments, supportive of our efforts and work, always pleasant, inclusive of everyone, caring about the lives and families of all of us, treating everyone the same, a fine Christian lady, and essentially a peacemaker. She faithfully works to help the museums be inclusive of all aspects of our town’s heritage and history.
She accepted a position on the Board of the FV Downtown Association in 2018 and is part of their design committee. She regularly supports the Cultural Arts programs of Fuquay-Varina.
Borrowing from the funeral program of Romie Burt, Sr., “in appreciation for the gift of his years,” we co-opt a part of the poem written especially for the service by Debra Collins. Like her father, Orlean “makes the environs of her world better by the power and presence of God’s grace.” Our community has been and is blessed “by the work of their hands.”
2020 Telephone interviews by Shirley Simmons with: Etta Burt McNair Chesley, Orlean Burt Newton, John Romie Burt, Jr. Rev. Dr. Lorenzo A. Lynch, Curtis Holleman and Portia Mitchell Newman. History of Fuquay-Varina, 2009, The Independent: June 3, 1998; May 8, 2002; May 7, 2003; and May 19, 2004. “Celebrating the Life and Love of Romie Burt, Sr,” December 30, 2006. Pictures from museum events and Burt family donation to the collection.