Dorothy A. Burley, 75, a Camden school board member and the city's first African American female municipal clerk, died Monday, April 16, in hospice care at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital after a battle with cancer.
Known as "Dot," Ms. Burley is remembered as a loving mother, a dedicated teacher, and a school board member who had a commitment to civil service, community volunteerism, and politics, said her family and friends.
"So many people loved and respected her," said Dwaine Williams, a former Camden school board member, who said she cared deeply about issues affecting the lives of young people. He called Ms. Burley a political icon. "I'm betting she is in heaven politicking," he said.
Camden School Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard put it another way: "She had a grandmotherly demeanor," he said, but beneath that there was "a fierceness to fight hard." She fought for the Fairview neighborhood, where she had lived for nearly three decades, and for students — especially those in kindergarten through fifth grade.
On the school board, Ms. Burley pushed to have students learn to read and write in cursive — a lesson that had been stricken from the curriculum and was never revived despite her best efforts, Rouhanifard said.
Ms. Burley's daughter, Dana, recalled a young student who was transferred into a special-education class. Ms. Burley believed the student could achieve in a traditional classroom and advocated for him. Years later, her daughter said, the student told her: "You were my best inspiration. You guided me. You gave me hope."
Ms. Burley was a lifelong resident of Camden, graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1960.
She married her high school sweetheart, Wilbert Burley, who was a standout athlete. The couple had two children, Anthony and Dana, and later divorced. While caring for the children, Ms. Burley earned an associate's degree in human services from Camden County College, and later, a bachelor's in elementary education from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University). She enrolled in additional education classes at Rutgers University, her family said.
"Our childhood was filled with everything, including trips to the Shore," said Dana Burley, a Camden councilwoman who added she was taught the importance of staying involved with the community.
"We wanted for nothing," said Ms. Burley's son. The siblings were taught good manners and good penmanship, he said, adding that both parents were "very supportive of everything we did."
In Camden, Ms. Burley's first job was teaching second and third graders at Yorkship School. She later worked at McGraw School as a head teacher, at East Camden Middle School as a computer center teacher, at Cramer School teaching basic skills, and later taught a GED math class at night at Woodrow Wilson High School.
In 1993, Ms. Burley was sworn into office as Camden's first African American female municipal clerk. She later worked at and retired from CAMcare Health Corp. as the director of human resources. After retiring, she continued to volunteer and assist in community-service projects, her family said.
In addition to serving on the school board since 2013, Ms. Burley served as a commissioner for the Camden County Board of Elections, chair of Camden's Housing Authority, chair of the city's Alcohol Beverage Control Board, commissioner for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, a member of Camden Education Association, and president of a local foundation for girls.
She was also a member of the Advisory Board to Camden's Board of Education, and the Camden County and city Democratic committees. Her honors included a Certificate of Achievement
s for Outstanding Accomplishments and Contributions to the City of Camden, Camden City Appreciation for Devoted and Invaluable Service, the Black Image Award, Calvary Baptist Church Service Award, and Camden Teacher of the Year.