He loved serving the local community

He’d been shot, stabbed, survived numerous accidents and the Dengue Fever, and in the end lifelong Oxford resident and 25-year Oxford policeman, Stephen Gordon Burnham died peacefully in a hospital bed, Feb. 13, 2009. He was 56-years old.
According to his wife of 12-years, Janet, ‘Gordy? as he was known by some, had battled non-Hodgkin lymphoma since April of 2008. For the last five months, ‘Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital was our second home,? she said. ‘The night before he died, he was laying in the hospital bed, on his side. We were holding hands, he would wink and flirt and blow kisses . . . he didn’t struggle. He looked so content, beautiful and at peace. He sighed as if he was already there.?
Burnham was born on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17), 1952 to Gordon and Mertle Burnham. And, while he wasn’t of Irish decent, Burnham had the gift of gab and a twinkle in his eye from early on as a youth growing up on Park Street.
Jack LeRoy, former Oxford Police Chief and recently retired Fire Chief grew up with Burnham on the village’s west side, and has fond memories.
‘I’ve known Gordy for most of my life, as kids we used to play together,? LeRoy said.
While growing up, LeRoy said Burnham like to hang out with the older kids. And, in Oxford of the 1960s, kids in that era used to do fun things like, add lawn mower engines to their bikes and ride them on the high school track.
‘You couldn’t help but like him,? LeRoy said. ‘Even in school he was the first one to pull a practical joke and he’d be the first one the principal (H.P. Johnson) went looking for, too.?
In a 1991 Oxford Leader article, Burnham said of his youth, ‘I wasn’t always a good egg. I got in trouble and I paid dearly for it and I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. That is the way it should be — you should regret. To err is human.?
He graduated from Oxford High School in 1970 and from Northern Michigan University Law Enforcement Academy in 1975 In 1975, when the Oxford Village Police Department took over duties of the township from the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department he and three others he graduated with — Frank Leach, Jim Flores and Homer Lotz — were hired. All four would stay with the department until they retired.
Jim Malcolm, a few years older than Burnham and also one of the core members of the department, watched ‘Gordy? grow and mature. ‘He was a good guy. I never had to worry about my back with Gordy. Gordy could communicate with people and keep his cool. Nothing ever shook him. He wanted to make a difference to his community and give back. He had a good heart,? Malcolm said.
Another former Oxford officer, Brian Russell, now the police chief in Dewitt Township, Michigan, agreed with Malcolm, that Burnham had a soft spot.
‘One Christmas we were on patrol and ended up at a grocery store and he bought a lot of things. Pretty soon we were at this home, and I’m thinking, ‘this isn’t right.? And I said to Steve, ‘What are you doing, we’ve arrested half the people in the house?? He said it wasn’t the kids? fault and he wanted to make sure those kids had a good Christmas. When we left he looked at me and said, ‘If you tell anybody about this, I’ll shoot you in the knee cap! Don’t tell a soul.? I’m sure he’s done more stuff like that, that we’ll never know about. He enjoyed his job and was very patient. And, as he got older, I think he became an even better person.?
Burnham, who one person described as having ham-hocs for hands, was only 5-foot-11, according to his wife. But, according to everybody else, his size ‘commanded respect? from those he dealt with as a policeman. Malcolm said, his size and the fact he always remembered where he started helped him related with most he had run ins with.
‘He was fair — even to people he arrested — he’d give everyone a chance. Steve could relate, and I think a lot of people respected him for that.?
Former Oxford Police Officer Ron Crichton, now with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, said Burnham was a ‘bright spot? in law enforcement. ‘Steve always had a kind word for his co-workers, for the public, in general and even for some the less desirables he dealt with.?
Folks at his church, the First Baptist Church of Lake Orion, called him the Gentle Giant for his way with children. Both Malcolm and LeRoy, had first hand exprience in that regard.
‘My kids adored him,? Malcolm said. ‘Kids could to talk to him. He’d set ’em straight and gave good direction and he never lied to them.?
When LeRoy’s children were younger and visiting OPD, they would find a row of pennies on the floor. ‘They’d follow it all the way into the jail cell, and then Steve would close the door and tell them to be good. They fell for it every time.? LeRoy said.
Burnham’s wife Janet, also said, over the course of 25 years, her husband had received many pins, ribbons and medals of recognition — but most are gone. ‘He didn’t wear them. When children would visit the police station he would give them something — many times it was one of his awards.?
Burnham retired from the force Feb. 1, 2000, and afterwords did much traveling around the world with his wife doing mission work. About 10 years ago, his wife said, he was bit by a mosquito and came down with hemorrhagic Dengue Fever while in the Dominican Repbulic.
He was trained in various specialties, some of which included hostage negotiations, explosives, chemical munitions, recovery diver, and Presidential security.
In 1991 he was recognized as Citizen of the Year by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He invented a compensated semi-automatic pistol that vented gases out of the top of the barrel; in 1982 was ranked 36th in the world at the Second Chance Pistol Match. He owned and operated Great Lakes Fireworks with his partner Glen Stokes, providing fireworks for Lake Orion’s July 4th Jubilee. With Harold Prince, he co-owned a glass terriarium company called Emerald Glass Company and operated Burnham’s Blasting Explosives Company.
Steve was in the 2008 movie, Pendragon: Sword of His Father presented by Burns Family Studios. He spent one year as an extra, playing a Saxon.
‘Steve was really proud to be from Oxford. We travelled all over the world and he would always tell people people about Oxford — the gravel pit capitol of the world. He loved people. He loved to laugh. He loved God and Country and he loved to be an Oxford policeman. When he retired, he really missed the guys,? his wife Janet said.
A memorial is planned for this Saturday at the First Baptist Church of Lake Orion, starting at 1 p.m.
He is survived by his wife, Janet (nee Milford); his mother Merolynn (Curtis-Burnham) Hathaway; step-father Perry Hathaway; sister Carol (Tom) Warmoth of Oxford, brother Douglas (Diane) Burnham of New Port Richey, Florida, sister Nancy (James) Breznau of Oxford. He is also survived by his step brother Thomas (Ellen) Hathaway of Rapid City, South Dakota, step sister Anne Schmidt of Oxford.
He is also survived by his father-in-law James Milford of Lake Orion, brother-in-law James Milford Jr. of Lake Orion, sister-in-law Lynda Milford (William Larkin) Clarkston, brother-in-law David Milford of Berkley.
Steve will be greatly missed by his many nieces and nephews including Aaron Warmoth (Oxford) Becky (Scott) Orcutt (Burton), Sarah Warmoth (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Grace, Daniel, Nathan, and Faith Breznau (Oxford), Andrew Milford (Lake Orion), Jacey Milford (Rochester), great nephew Brody Orcutt (Burton), step niece Mary McMath (Imlay City), and great nieces Alissa and Ashlee Noone (Imlay City).
Steve was preceded in death by his father Gordon Carter Burnham, his mother-in-law Judith Milford, and step sister Mary Hathaway.
A very special thank you to the staff and doctors at Royal Oak Beaumont’s 8 South Oncology Unit for the love, wonderful care and support you gave both Steve and Janet.
Flowers may be delivered to the Church the day of the Service between 10 a.m. and noon. Memorial donations may be made to FBCLO Missions Fund and will be used in Steve’s memory to fund a Library building project in India with Steve’s long time mission friends Sam and Molly De.
Visit Steve’s website, http://memorialwebsites.legacy.com/steve_gordy_burnham

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