SALEM – Ask just about anybody who knows Capt. John Burrow, and that person will tell you about his character.
The state’s oldest living Virginia State Trooper has had years to display his professionalism and gentlemanly qualities. Burrow turned 100 last week on March 5. At a party in his honor four days later, the compliments flowed.
“He’s made this agency what it is today,” said current Division 6 Commander Richard Denney. Burrow joined the VSP on Dec. 26, 1939, after attending the Virginia State Police school in 1936-1938.
He was the first commander of the division headquartered in Salem, which covers 14 counties and stretches almost from North Carolina to Tennessee.
“He was the perfect division commander,” said former Salem VSP Division 6 Commander Charles Compton who retired in 2005. Burrow served a total of 34 years with the Virginia State Police before retiring 40 years ago. Age 60 was the mandatory retirement age then, pointed out Capt. Denney.
The years in between don’t mean Burrow has been forgotten, though. At his birthday celebration at Brandon Oaks Retirement Community in Roanoke where the former Salem resident now resides in independent living, more than 150 people came to shake his hand, bring him gifts and photographs, and wish him well.
About 45 of those were family members, including sons Richard Burrow of Roanoke and Frank Burrow of Signal Mountain, Tenn., and two of the elder Burrow’s three sisters, Ruth and Helen. There were also grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren and more.
Frank Burrow had created collage posters of different phases of their dad’s life, including his years serving in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Alpine in the Pacific during World War II, and showing him in early years in various VSP uniforms.
Everybody had stories about Burrow.
“He’s a good man. He was highly thought of by everybody in the Virginia State Police,” said Cecil Johnson of Beverly Heights, who came up from Wytheville to be the division commander when Burrow retired.
“When he started work, I don’t think there was a Virginia State Police department. It didn’t become a department until 1941,” Johnson recalled.
Another retiree, Lonnie Craft, explained he first met Burrow when the latter was a sergeant at Abingdon. “He had the name of ‘Thorough Burrow,’ ” said Craft. “If you asked him what time it was, he would tell you how to make a watch.”
For the most part, the party was a time for people to visit with Burrow and each other. Ceremonial activities were limited to a Salem City Council proclamation declaring March 9 as Capt. John W. Burrow Day, presented by Salem Vice Mayor John Givens, and a VSP Alumni plaque presented by retired Sgt. John Rowles of Gladstone, who keeps the VSP history. Rowles was at the celebration with his wife, Lynn, who was the first female VSP motorcycle officer.
Speaking to the crowd, Burrow admitted he was somewhat overwhelmed with all the attention, and directed the praise to his fellow Virginia State Police officers.
“A lot people don’t really know the depth of their operation,” Burrow said. “There’s a whole lot more work than writing tickets, a lot of work to be done and they’re at it everyday.”
Other law enforcement people in the community remember Burrow, too.
“My father said he was the very finest man he ever met in his life. His integrity was beyond question. His professionalism set the mark for what every trooper ought to be.”
That’s how the late Trooper John Rorer described Burrow, according to Rorer’s son, Salem Sheriff’s Chief Deputy David Rorer.
Capt. Burrow and his late wife, Almyra, lived in Salem. The couple were featured in the 2009 “Senior Lifestyles” published by the Salem Times-Register, when they had been married for 70 years. He was active in the Salem Kiwanis Club, and First United Methodist Church.
On his actual birthday, Burrow went out to eat at The Roanoker Restaurant, his favorite place, with son Richard and wife Janet.
When asked what he ate, Burrow said, “I had steak and turnip greens, which I love, and baked apples.”
At his party Saturday he blew out a 100-year-candle on a cake presented by Cory Wilkie, Brandon Oaks dining operations manager.
After the official presentations, Burrow asked Vice Mayor Givens to tell Salem City Council how much he appreciated the proclamation. “The whole council seems to work together so well,” he added.
“I certainly appreciate the attention,” Burrow said to the crowd.”We’ll be seeing you from time to time,” he said, and promised, “I’ll be seeing you again.”