The global pandemic struck painfully close to home in West University this week with word that former Mayor Burt Ballanfant had died from Coronavirus.
News of his passing elicited an outpouring of shock, sadness and memories of Ballanfant as a longtime friend, neighbor and public servant — from his college years at the University of Texas more than a half-century ago to his stalwart protection of West University and his leadership in schools and regional mobility, to heartfelt recollections on social media of the smiling man who was known for strolling the streets of West U and making new friends.
Ballanfant’s friendship with current Mayor Bob Higley reached back to their days at the university, and Higley shared these memories with Essentials: “I met Burt in the Fall of 1966. He was a sophomore transfer to UT from Vanderbilt . I was entering my junior year. The two of us stayed friends for 54 years, largely because we shared similar interests. The success of West U was, perhaps, the most abiding shared interest.
‘With his defiance and guidance, West U is one of the most sought-after home rule cities in the world. Burt said ‘yes’ to strong zoning strictly enforced, paved streets and sidewalks, citywide parks and clear lines between policy creation and policy implementation. As a politician, Burt ‘danced with the gals who brung him,’ the seniors and public school advocates.
“Would that we could have enjoyed more senior years with him. I will miss my old friend and his wise counsel. What a legacy; broad and deep.”
From another former mayor and friend, Bob Kelly: “Burt will be sorely missed for his dedication to his family and his church, his public service to the city of West University Place and METRO, and his neighborly walks through the streets of West U.”
Essentials publisher George Boehme remembered one particular facet of Ballanfant’s devotion to community: “Burt Ballanfant fought like a junk-yard Rottweiler to make West University Place the residential magnet it is. And he always wanted to talk about more and better parks. The discussion could be about trash collection or water quality, but Burt would somehow bridge the conversation to discuss his belief that we needed more parkland.
“When you visit a West U park, think of Burt, because every park in West U has some of Burt’s sweat seeped into its soil.”
A product of Houston ISD, Ballanfant (Lamar HS Class of 1965) served as a parent leader at schools attended by his children. Former area trustee Dianne Johnson knew him as a “good friend” who “cared deeply about HISD,” and former HISD administrator Michele Pola remembered him from “his role on committees, always so thoughtful.”
Former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel knew Ballanfant as her neighboring mayor, and they later served together on the METRO Board as representatives of the so-called “multi-cities.” She shared these thoughts with Essentials:
“Burt gave generously of his time to his community and friends. We were both mayor at the same time and became good friends. I will never forget Burt’s friendship and support during the most heartbreaking time that I had as mayor.
“Bellaire had just been notified of the loss of our seniors in a bus fire while they were being evacuated to Dallas during Hurricane Rita. Even as he was preparing West University for Hurricane Rita, Burt took the time to come to the Bellaire Police Station (our emergency command center) to see if there was anything that he could do for me or our city. He was a wonderful man and will be greatly missed.”