By Morgan Bryce
Shortly after her hiring as the Lee-Russell Council of Government’s executive director, Suzanne Burnette remembers wondering if she would last in that position long enough to be vested in Alabama’s state retirement system. On May 1, she will be retiring after a nearly 25-year career with the organization.
Deciding to retire has been on Burnette’s mind for the last two years, but said she believes the time is now perfect for her to make that life change.
“I realized that I’ve been here a while and it’s for some new blood to be in here. Also, my husband Wayne is now fully retired and we have some things that we want to do together,” Burnette said.
From birth to high school, Burnette and her family resided in West, Texas before moving to Mayfield, Kentucky for her father’s tire production job.
After high school and some college, Burnette traveled abroad before returning to the United States. In 1972, she married Wayne.
In the early years of their marriage, the Burnettes were in postgraduate school, both pursuing a masters degree in public administration.
Starting her career in the business development sphere, Burnette said she found her life’s calling for serving others during her time working for the city of Richmond, Kentucky’s community development program.
“That’s where my heart landed more than anywhere because I could take that skill I had acquired in school and use it. I was able to help people in their daily lives as well as the infrastructural development of the surrounding communities, cities and region,” Burnette said.
During the next two decades, the Burnettes lived in California, Florida and Tennessee before moving to Alabama following Wayne’s acceptance of an economic representative position with the state.
Already with more than two decades of community development and infrastructure development experience, Burnette was tasked with helping the LRCG get off the ground with a small staff and budget.
The organization has boomed in the last 24 years, with Burnette overseeing a staff of nearly 40 full-time employees and multiple departments, including the Area Agency and Lee-Russell Aging Foundation which provides benefit programs for seniors, planning and economic development initiatives and a massive public transit system which operates across the area.
“I’ve been able to do this because I’ve built a great team. That’s the key to everything: hiring people smarter than you are,” Burnette said laughingly. “This area is also certainly a great place to live and we have some of the best area leadership anyone could hope to have. They work together extremely well and that’s not very common.”
A hiring team is in the process of finding Burnette’s replacement. With only two weeks until her retirement, she said she will miss the day-to-day interaction with her staff and the opportunity to better the area she calls home.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done. I think the next person they hire will do just as well as me, hopefully even better,” Burnette said. “We’ve added new programs and made the existing ones better over time. I believe what I’m leaving behind is a good legacy.”
For more information about the LRCG and its services, visit www.lrcg.com.