Thomas “Tom” Elton Burchett died after a life well-lived on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, in Centralia. He was 89 years old.
Tom was born in April of 1933. He grew up on Gore Road in Onalaska, Washington, where he was, and probably still is, known as “Tommy.” His father was a part-time logger and a full-time fiddler, and his mother was a teacher. They were Scotch-Irish and Norwegian respectively, so he came by his stubbornness honestly.
As a young man, Tommy thought he’d make it big as a cucumber farmer. That didn’t last long. When frost hit early one September, he had to cut his losses and go to college. After a few semesters at Centralia College, he found himself broke and in need of a job, so he signed up to serve his two draft years in the U.S. Army. As he would tell it, he “fought the Korean war all over Germany.” And while he appreciated the veteran’s discount he got at the Lucky Eagle Buffet, it remained, in his telling, “the worst two years of my life.” Once back on American soil with his GI Bill in hand, he finished his bachelor’s degree at Western and followed in his mother’s footsteps as a teacher.
Tom enjoyed much in life, but his greatest loves were teaching marine biology, coaching girls basketball, and his family – sometimes in that order. Tom (né “Mr. Burchett”) spent the majority of his 31-year career teaching biology at Centralia High School. During his tenure at CHS, he started the advanced biology program with his teaching partner Leroy, and began the program’s annual pilgrimage to the reef at Neah Bay. Well into old age, he could recite the scientific name of every tree and marine organism on the Washington coast. (And he thought you should be able to, too.) He never let a trip over the pass go without a conversation about the formation of basalt, and he believed you weren’t a real scientist until you’d eaten sea urchin gonads (which more refined people might call “uni”) off a knife at Neah Bay. While at CHS, Mr. Burchett also coached boys baseball and was the first coach of the CHS girls basketball program. He retired from teaching and coaching in 1989. To his dying day, he could call a pitch from a long way off, believed “Prairie cheats” by recruiting illegally, and could beat anyone in HORSE. He never missed an opportunity to ask a tall girl if she was going to play basketball.
As a lifelong Presbyterian and longtime member of Westminster Presbyterian in Chehalis, Tom was a strong believer in the equal rights of all God’s creatures. He was an especially fervent advocate for women’s rights, believing that girls should be given the same opportunities to participate in STEM fields and sports.
Tom had two children, Rick and Anne, with his first wife, Margaret Burchett, of Centralia. In his late 50s, Tom had two more kids, Alison and Lacey, with his second wife, the late Patty (Padden) Burchett. He spent the last decade of his life enjoying the company of his wife, Marilyn Turner-Burchett, of Centralia.
He was preceded in death by his daughter Anne Hull and his sister Thelma Davis. He is survived by his son Richard (Judy) Burchett of Olympia, daughter Alison (Matthew) of Anchorage, and daughter Lacey (Aaron) of Seattle. He was blessed with nine grandchildren and a bunch of great-grandchildren. He will be fondly remembered by many and not-so-fondly by a few.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to either the science department or the girls basketball program at Centralia High School. A graveside burial will be held at Claquato Cemetery at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022. A celebration of life will follow at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Chehalis at 1 p.m.