Our brother, friend, mentor and AGAPE’s Executive Director for 30 years, Tom Burton passed from this life on Friday, February 26, 2016.
Born in Whites Creek, Tennessee in 1946 to Jim and Elizabeth Burton, Tom earned his undergraduate degree in psychology from Lipscomb University in 1968 and a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee School of Social Work in 1972. From 1969-1970 he proudly served his country in Vietnam as part of the 101st Airborne Division’s Army Artillery Battalion.
After graduating in 1972, Tom began his career working with mentally disabled adults as Director of The House of Friendship – a project at the time of the Nashville Mental Health Association. It was during this period that Tom met the late Howard Justiss who planted the seed of Christian childcare in Tom’s heart.
In 1974, based on the recommendation of Mr. Justiss, Floyd Stumbo, of the Children’s Home of Lubbock, hired Tom as a social worker. During his time in Texas, Tom realized his true passion was for the love and care of children.
Impressed with his leadership and organizational skills, AGAPE’s board of directors invited Tom to return to Nashville and serve as executive director. In 1982, Tom, his wife Chris, and their two children, Jamie and Emily returned to begin serving the children and families of Middle Tennessee.
From a donated space on Westwood Drive in Nashville, he began his work at AGAPE. In June, 1982, there were 14 children in foster care, three maternity clients, and a new counseling program that already served 72 families during the first six months of that year. Under Tom’s direction, AGAPE outgrew its offices, resulting in two subsequent moves to larger facilities.
In 1992, with Tom’s vision and leadership, over two million dollars was raised to build the then state-of-the-art Justiss-Kirby Center where the agency’s home offices are now located. Tom was very proud that AGAPE did not have to borrow any money to build the new facility, and it remains debt free to this date.
Tom was a member of Harpeth Hills Church of Christ where he served as a deacon and an elder.
He was also a member of numerous local, regional, and national child and family services organizations, including the Tennessee Association for Childcare, the Christian Child and Family Services Association, the Christian Adoption Resource Exchange, The National Association of Social Workers and the Child Welfare League of America.
In 2010, Tom received Lipscomb University’s annual Mary Morris Award recognizing those who demonstrate a high level of service to community and church and who expand, embrace and share Christian principles in unconventional ways.
Tom’s commitment to serving other people fueled the growth and services of AGAPE. His high standards and quest for excellence, supported by a dedicated board of directors has resulted in unprecedented growth while building a highly skilled professional team of social workers, psychologists, counselors, development, and support staff.
Tom retired at the end of 2012 after serving more than 30 years as Executive Director for AGAPE. His wife Chris who served by his side for almost his entire career retired in 2013. Chris passed away in summer, 2015.