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Day before Ruben Burks is buried, his son reminisces

Featured Photo: Ruben Burks with his sons L to R: Clifford, Larry, Ruben, Gary & Michael

Written by Tanya Terry

Ruben Burks passed away at age 86 due to COVID-19, and the family buries him April 25.

“My dad was sick, and my brother Michael, who is a physician, took him to the hospital and that was it,” said Burks’ other son, Clifford Burks, who works for the Flint Courier News.

“We weren’t allowed to visit,” Clifford Burks added.

Ruben Burks was in the hospital just over 10 days before passing away.

Ruben Burks often repeated the motto: “Don’t ever forget where you came from. Therein lies your strength .”

“My dad always said that to us, and particularly when each one of us was getting ready to go off to college,” Clifford Burks said. “We had long discussions leading up to it because all of us went under varying conditions. I went on a football scholarship. Gary went on a track scholarship, and Larry and Michael both went on an academic scholarship. As we progressed through our college careers, he would always tell us ‘don’t forget where you came from.’

As a child, Clifford Burks saw his father promote issues of equal pay, promotion, education, occupation and leadership, as a supporter of the UAW Women’s Council.

“Raising young black men in this nation, dad always told us that we were going to have to be better than our counterparts. In order to be better, you have to have a real perspective of the world you live in and the society you grow up in, and in whatever profession that you choose you have to go in with open eyes.”

Ruben Burks used examples from his own ascension through the UAW when speaking to his kids.

As a member of UAW Local 598 since 1955, Ruben Burks began his work life as an assembler at the former Fisher Body Plant of General Motors Corporation in Flint. In 1970, he was appointed to the UAW staff where he served UAW members in General Motors and independent parts and suppliers plants.

Ruben Burks served three terms as UAW regional director, covering 11 counties throughout Michigan. He restructured the Community Action Program to emphasize issue education and recruiting and training UAW members to work as volunteers in campaigns in the region. After retiring from the UAW, Ruben Burks was voted secretary treasurer of the Alliance of Retired Americans.

“My dad was also a great teacher of contract language and grievance procedure which were hallmarks of UAW representation. That was on the shop floor.”

Clifford Burks has six brothers and three sisters.

“My mom was more of the backbone in teaching. My dad would seek our input because he was away a lot.”

Ruben Burks chaired the United Way of Genesee and Lapeer Counties board of trustees, served as director of the Boy Scouts of America Tall Pine Council No. 264 and the Sam Duncan Memorial Scholarship Fund and as University of Michigan at Flint advisory board member.

At various functions, Ruben Burks would give his family credit for allowing him to go do what he felt he needed to do.

Clifford Burks describes his father as a “man’s man.

“He was hands on. He made the functions that he could make. He also spent time with each one of us. My dad really instilled a piece of him in each one of us, which is what we’re taking solace in right now.”

One of Clifford Burks fond memories of his dad includes a memory of being at a UAW function

“My dad was playing softball, and of course we were running around all over the place. He just stopped playing to come and sit with us. I thought that was awesome!”

There are three axioms Ruben Burks displayed proudly in his office:

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.-Stephen Covey

My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. –Unknown

Earn your leadership every day. –Michael Jordan

“My dad was a quarterback in high school. He was always in some leadership capacity and always had input. So, he always had to prepare himself and know what the game plan is and be able to execute it. That’s how he talked with us quite a bit-in sports terms. I don’t think my dad ever stopped being a quarterback.”

Clifford Banks further describes his dad as a people person, well loved by everybody.

“One of the most endearing qualities of my dad is he always, always had time for people-no matter what capacity he was in, all the way up to becoming the number two man in the entire UAW International.”

Ruben Burks




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