Dr Mack Burriss at 100 telling his story
dr Mack Burriss, tells stories about serving in World War II, starting an animal shelter, and more.
Ken Ruinard, Anderson Independent Mail
The smell of coffee filled the dining room where William “Mack” Burriss sat on a Wednesday morning while classical piano was being played on a speaker in the kitchen.
He took slow sips from his mug and watched his two dogs playing on the porch of his home on Stratford Drive which he built in the mid 70s.
“I feel good, should we write a book about it?” he said jokingly with his deep laugh.
His sarcastic, sweet personality has not dampened after a century of life.
A proud sixth-generation Andersonian with roots back to 1760, Burriss has seen a county and nation transform while making a lasting impact on the animals and people of his longtime community.
“He’s living history, he saw it all,” his granddaughter Lauren Heaton said.
Heaton has researched and kept her grandpa’s history preserved through boxes of newspaper clippings and photographs.
Her mom and Burriss’s only remaining child, Cindy Burriss, is a nurse and lives with him full-time, a task that results in many laughs and stories.
Burriss’s father was a veterinarian for years, so it was only a matter of time before Burriss followed in his footsteps.
Family roots, early years
Burriss was born in 1922 but almost 200 years prior, his great- great- great- great- grandfather Joshua Burriss moved to the county from Virginia. That was in 1760.
Burriss’s grandparents had a large farm that stretched down Clemson Highway, and later split the land between their children. Burriss’s father inherited property on the right side so he started a veterinary practice in 1935.
It was a mile next to that farm where he saw an Autogyro land. He and a friend raced over for a glimpse at Amelia Earhart, who was surrounded by admirers and reporters.
He won’t forget what she was wearing, baggie trousers and boots, or the unique plane she rode with a big rotor at the top and propeller on the front.
Fast forward a lifetime, on the kitchen table next to Burriss’s coffee was a stack of old photographs. He could pick up any of the photos and name the people in them and what that day was like from high school to wartime.
After graduating from Boys High School, he attended the Citadel with hopes to go to West Point from there. After a failed eye exam, he decided to switch paths and follow after his father.
He transferred to Auburn where he met his wife, Hellen Joyce Legendre, on a blind date horseback riding.
“Auburn had a horse-drawn field artillery unit and the veterinarians took care of the horses at Auburn. We could check them out on the weekends and ride them,” he said. “If you had a date, you could ride a horse with your date, there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do at Auburn on weekends.”
During the summer, he’d hitch a ride from Alabama to South Carolina, going as far as he could with each car ride.
Burriss graduated with a degree in Veterinary Medicine in 1943 and then started a 3-year stint in the Army Veterinary Corps in Italy.
He took a 10-day leave to marry Legendre in 1944 and the pair was married for 69 years before she died in 2013.
Veterinarian in World War II
During World War II, neighbors knew which parents had children in the war by a brown star hanging in the window.
“We had service stars, and she had three in the window,” Burriss said of his mother. “When we went home, it was quite an occasion.”
“When we went home”, he said again, slower, as if he could feel that home still.
He lowered his head, “They’re both gone now.”
Burriss’s brother Chad Burriss was in the Air Corps now called Air Force and his sister Tedo Burriss was a nurse with the Navy Nursing Corps.
Landing in Italy to serve was the first time he’d been out of the country and he knew it was Italy when he saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
He did a variety of things in the military but was guiding horses when German artillery force fired at him but he’d continue caring for the animals.
“I was fortunate to be with animals,” he said.
A typical day involved caring for horses and mules who were suffering from colic or helping figure out why a leg would go lame.
“The foot of the horse is rather complicated,” he said.
Germany used a lot of large horses, he said, since they didn’t have as much petroleum.
He often found large groups of horses shot dead after a group of soldiers would retreat to save themselves. Sights like that were hard to see but in wartime, survival was survival.
His second experience with the war was in Chicago during the Korean War when he inspected food.
Returning to Anderson to make a difference
When he came home at the end of the war he began practicing veterinary medicine at his father’s practice in Anderson but saw a need for a shelter.
He opened the Anderson Humane Society and built the Animal Shelter on Highway 28 South in 1974.
Caring for animals was an important task for him.
“Animals are important to us and great companions, just about become a member of the family,” he said. His childhood German Shepherd, Pal, was his favorite pet he ever had.
He practiced from 1946-1950 before being recalled for duty during the Korean War where he was Commanding officer of Veterinary Food Inspection Detachment in Chicago.
After returning to Anderson in 1953, he practiced veterinary medicine again until 1982. His practice moved from Clemson Boulevard when he sold that property after his father died. He built a small practice near downtown right beside The City Seed Store.
Burriss and his wife adopted two children, Doug in 1958, who died in 1986, and Cindy in 1961.
He was also Veterinary Consult for Anderson County. He operated the spay/neuter clinic there until he retired in July 2009, performing more than 30,000 surgeries.
The Animal Shelter was named “Dr. William “Mack” Burriss” Facility.
“I worked with him every summer, we spent summers with my grandparents when my parents worked,” Heaton said. “He used to take me with him.”
When she was 6, she’d wake up at 5 am to walk into the shelter early. She got a pair of scrubs and he’d let her prep, clean and assist during the surgery.
She thought I was a big job to trim their hair and worked with him again in college.
“I just remembered how much he cared about every animal,” she said. “Everything had to be just right.”
He was always getting animals in their best shape to get adopted and have a better life, she said.
“Now you’re logging,” he’d always say when she did something right.
Besides his longtime work as a veterinarian, he was a 35-year member and later chairman of the Board of Trustees of School District Five.
What he’s learned from 100 years of life? Be kind.
Sarah Sheridan is the community reporter in Anderson. She’d appreciate your help telling important stories; reach her at email@example.com or on twitter @saralinasher.