BURLISON John Stuart Burlison of North Bethesda, MD, known to many as "Happy," died of complications from ampullary cancer on March 18, 2020, according to his spouse, Ron Dagani. John was born in Moscow, Idaho, on March 4, 1951. He attended high school in Potlatch, Idaho, and later graduated from the University of Idaho in Moscow with a B.S. degree in Speech Communication. He also studied at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill. John began his professional career as a technical editor and writer at Battelle-Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Wash. In 1983 he moved to Washington, DC, where he met Ron that same year. The two have resided together in Maryland since 1984. John worked for several government contractors in the Washington, DC area, most notably Computer Sciences Corp. and General Sciences Corp. He managed computer documentation for development groups in both companies and was active in the DC chapter of the Society for Technical Communication, serving a term as chapter president. John worked at Fannie Mae from 1997 until his retirement in 2007. In the 1990s, John served for many years on the board of the Free State Justice Campaign, an advocacy group for LGBT civil rights. He served two years as the co-chair of the organization, which played a pivotal role in the passage of anti-discrimination legislation in the Maryland Assembly. At the beginning of the 21st century, John took up square dancing with DC Lambda Squares, an LGBT square dance club in the nation's capital. Square dancing became a passion. He served on the DC Lambda Squares board for nine years, in just about every board position. He danced with square dance clubs in suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. John also was an avid cyclist. He and a couple of friends have taken extended bicycle trips in the Appalachians, around Florida, up the East Coast from Key West to Halifax, and throughout central Europe. In addition to the cycling, he enjoyed sailing in the Caribbean, and he also trekked in Nepal. He loved to travel and was sometimes on the road for weeks at a time. John created the Vernon Burlison Memorial Fund in honor of his father at the University of Idaho. The fund supports LGBT programs at the university. In the early 1970s, John was baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was excommunicated in 1981, but reconciled to his faith in the last decade of his life. He attended the Kensington Ward in the Washington, DC Stake. John was the son of Vernon Henry Burlison and Prudence May Barrett. His step-mother was Dorothy Miller Clancy Finn Burlison. He married Susan Comstock Mauery in 1973. That marriage ended in divorce. He married Ron Dagani in 2013 on the 30th anniversary of their meeting. John was pre-deceased by his brother, Vernon Burlison, Jr. In addition to Ron, John is survived by his siblings (Grace Burlison Wallace, Frank Burlison, Katherine Clancy, Stephen Burlison, Patricia Finn, and John Michael Finn), his four children (Timothy Mauery, Sarah Mauery Foutz, Vernon Mauery, and Mary Mauery Haeberle), and twenty-three grandchildren. John leaves behind many people who cherished him, including family members, LGBT friends, square dancers, and fellow saints in the Kensington Ward. A celebration of his life will be scheduled at a later date. [Ron noted that Happy wrote the obit himself.]
LGBTQ rights advocate John Burlison dies at 69 by Lou Chibbaro Jr
John S. Burlison, a resident of North Bethesda, Md. who worked as a technical editor and writer and later as a software products manager and who served in the 1990s as a board member and co-chair of the Maryland LGBTQ rights group Free State Justice Campaign, died March 18 at his home of complications associated with abdominal cancer. He was 69.
Burlison was born in Moscow, Idaho, and attended high school in Potlach, Idaho before graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication, according to a write-up released by his husband, Ron Dagani.
He studied at Illinois State University before beginning his professional career as a technical editor and writer at Battelle-Northwest Laboratories in Richland, Wash. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1983 where he met Dagani, and the two have resided together in Maryland since 1984, the write-up says. Burlison and Dagani were married in 2013 on the 30th anniversary of their meeting each other.
According to Dagani, Burlison worked for several companies in the D.C. area that provide contract work for the federal government as a usability consultant and later as a software product manager. Among the firms he worked for were Computer Sciences Corporation and General Sciences Corporation.
He worked for the Federal National Mortgage Association known as Fannie Mae from 1997 until his retirement in 2007, Dagani’s write-up says.
The write-up, which Dagani said was prepared mostly by Burlison, notes that Burlison served for a number of years in the 1990s on the board of the Free State Justice Campaign and served for two years as the then Maryland gay rights organization’s co-chair as it advocated for LGBTQ rights legislation before the Maryland General Assembly. The organization later became Equality Maryland.
In the early 2000s Burlison took up square dancing with the D.C. Lambda Squares, an LGBTQ square dancing club for which he served on its board for nine years, the write-up says. He was an avid cyclist and traveled with friends on extended bicycle trips along the U.S. East Coast and throughout central Europe.
Dagani said religion and faith were an important part of Burlison’s life and that presented a conflict with his status as a proud gay man. According to Dagani, Burlison grew up in a religious Methodist home in Idaho but converted to the Mormon faith in the early 1970s shortly before he married a Mormon woman in 1973 who had been his childhood sweetheart, Susan Comstock.
The couple, who had four children, divorced while living in Washington State around the time Burlison was working for Battelle-Northwest Laboratories. Dagani said Mormon Church officials had earlier told Burlison, who loved his wife and told her he was gay before they married, that getting married would solve his “gay problem.” But church officials later excommunicated Burlison for homosexuality and “apostasy,” Dagani said.
When his wife remarried she and her new husband took legal action to arrange for the husband to adopt the children and deny parental rights for Burlison, Dagani said. But despite this trying experience, years later while living in Maryland in a fulfilling relationship with Dagani, Burlison returned to the Mormon Church in what turned out to be a supportive Kensington Ward congregation in Maryland near his and Dagani’s home.
“At first it was awkward and surreal – people who are rejected by a church do not normally re-enter the good graces of that community,” Dagani wrote in a draft obituary he plans to deliver when the coronavirus epidemic subsides and a memorial service for Burlison can be held. “But with time he found a place in the Kensington Ward, which he found to be warm, loving, and accepting of both of us,” Dagani wrote. “As one ward member told me recently, ‘John has touched the lives of so many current and past ward members,’” Dagani recounted.
Burlison also became involved with the LGBTQ Mormon group Affirmation, Dagani said.
“John was a sweet, gentle, loving, soft-spoken man with a whimsical sense of humor,” Dagani told the Washington Blade. “He was modest, often referring to himself as ‘an Idaho country farm boy.’ That he was, but he was also intelligent, smart, well-read, and curious about the world.”
Dagani, who noted that Burlison’s close friends addressed him by the nickname Happy, said he will miss his husband for his many talents, including his cooking and his “wacky, whimsical sense of humor…Most of all, though, I will miss his love. He was truly the love of my life,” said Dagani. “Thank you, Happy.”
Burlison was predeceased by his brother, Vernon Burlison Jr. In addition to his husband Ron Dagani, Burlison is survived by his siblings Grace Burlison Wallace, Frank Burlison, Katherine Clancy, Stephen Burlison, Patricia Finn, and John Michael Finn; his four children, Timothy Mauery, Sarah Mauery Foutz, Vernon Mauery, and Mary Mauery Haeberle; 23 grandchildren; and many friends.
Dagani said a celebration of Burlison’s life will be scheduled at a later date.
Happy had been sleeping comfortably around the clock for the past three days. His hospice nurse came to check on him this afternoon. About six hours later, while I was at his side in the bedroom, he took his last breath.
I posted the following on Facebook tonight:
JOHN STUART BURLISON
March 4, 1951 – March 18, 2020
My sweet, gentle angel got his wings Wednesday evening. I’m sure he will be bringing joy and happiness to the next world just as he brought to mine. Rest in peace, Happy! I will love you always.
We are planning a celebration of his life, but due to the coronavirus outbreak, it's unclear right now when we will be able to hold it. Stay tuned.
— Ron Dagani, Happy's partner
Dear Friends, A sad note. Many of you will remember John ("Happy", "Happy Doodle") Burlison from his many years of square dancing in the Washington/Baltimore region. He always brought a sense of fun and joie de vivre to dancing with an extra added a la mode scoop of silliness on the side. His smile was contagious and his spirit radiant. His tenderness as a human being he offered to us unsparingly. We will miss you, old buddy. Deepest condolences to Ron and all who had the privilege to know Happy. From all of us at Chesapeake Squares.
— Scott MacLeod, President, Chesapeake Squares
I am very sad to say that one of our own died this past Wednesday of a long bout with pancreatic cancer, Happy Doodle. Happy Doodle (John Burlison) died Wednesday. You may remember dancing with him at Ettseteras, DC Lambda Squares, many fly-ins, and at convention. His smile always radiated, and his kindness to others was unmatched. He was a long-time member of the DC Lambda Squares and served as their president for a short time.
If you'd like, you can send a card to Happy's partner, Ron:
11400 Strand Dr. Apt 407
Rockville, MD 20852
Ron says that once the COVID danger is over, we will have a Celebration of Life gathering to remember Happy and share our stories of how he touched us all.
Be safe, be well, and tell your loved ones that you do love them, every day.
(apologies to those who see this message a few times)
— Ett McAtee, President, GCA
I remember a long time ago at Rehoboth, I had to ask Happy if that was his real name. He always WAS so happy and full of smiles and life and funny stories... I found out he did have a real name... RIP. John. We all love you to pieces....
— Ett McAtee
- The Washington Post (Washington, DC) Tuesday, 24 Mar 2020
- Washington Blade (Washington, DC) Wednessday, 20 May 2020