NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Burnece Walker Brunson, a TSU alumna who was featured as ABC World News Tonight’s “Person of the Week,” has died at the age of 102.
Family members said Brunson passed away Sunday at her home surrounded by family and friends.
“They actually were having prayer and holding her hands when she passed,” said Dawn Dopson, Brunson’s great-niece.
TSU President Glenda Glover said TSU has lost a “jewel.”
“Ms. Brunson truly embodied the spirit of TSU,” said President Glover. “We were blessed to have her with us for so many years, and especially as a symbol representing the legacy and proud tradition of the university. In 2016, we were honored to have her serve as our homecoming grand marshal, which was highlighted by her selection as ABC’s Nightly News ‘Person of the Week.’ She will always be in our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
A native of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, Brunson moved to Chicago for a better education. There, she got her first taste of cheerleading while in high school.
“It fulfilled my desire to stay physically active since there were not many sporting activities for girls during those days,” she said.
After high school, Brunson decided to attend TSU (A&I College) in 1933. The following year she joined the cheerleading team.
In 1936, Brunson received her teaching certificate and eventually went back to Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Chicago Teacher’s College, and a master’s degree from the National College of Education in Evanston, Illinois.
While in Chicago, Brunson was the first female hired there to serve as a lifeguard.
Brunson would later return to Tennessee and make Nashville her home; the place where she developed unforgettable collegiate memories.
As a member of the TSU Alumni Cheerleader Association, she was a fixture at Homecoming parades and football games, still shaking her pom-pom to cheer on her home team. A retired school teacher, Brunson returned and performed with the team at age 87 during the 2003 Homecoming, and did so nearly every year after.
“Cheering for your favorite players and entertaining your fans feel like you are also part of the game,” Brunson said in a recent interview. “It is home; it is family. My love for TSU has no end.”
Last year, Brunson was featured on the popular ABC evening show for her longevity and TSU team spirit.
“She’s still cheering; proving to us all what it means to be forever young,” said David Muir, the anchor of ABC World News Tonight, and Person of the Week host.
Brunson was co-grand marshal at the 2016 TSU Homecoming, where she was honored at several events, including a scholarship that was established in her name. During the festivities, a film crew shot footage for a PBS special on HBCUs, and Brunson was included.
A prolific writer, Brunson tried to spread her wisdom in one of about a dozen books she wrote, including Food for Thought: Nourishment for the Soul, which gives tips on how to navigate life’s challenges.
When asked what advice she would give people today, especially youngsters, she smiled, then replied:
“Do the right thing, in every way.”
Department of Media Relations
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With more than 8,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 bachelor’s degree programs, 25 master’s degree programs and seven doctoral degrees. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.