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Oct. 22, 2008

For all the little guys in heaven, you've gained a great advocate on Oct. 22, 2008, when Don Edgar Burris closed his eyes for the last time on this earth and went to meet his maker.

Don was born on June 22, 1930, to Ralph and Ola Chapman Burris in Bellaire, Ohio. He grew up and graduated from Butler High School in 1947.

During the Korean Conflict, Don served in the United States Marine Corps, C/1/1 with distinction of five personal medals: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, USMC Good Conduct, United Nations Service Medal and National Defense. He treasured the associations he forged in those times throughout the remainder of his life.

When he returned after his military service, he graduated from Antioch College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He then went on to earn his law degree from Ohio State. He became a member of the Ohio State Bar Association and the California State Bar association and practiced criminal law there for 13 years.

Don had two children from his first marriage of whom he was extremely proud: Brett, now a businessperson in Seattle, and Kimberly, now a medical doctor in Wisconsin Dell, Wis.

In 1975, he received an appointment as an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration and moved his family to Montana. He was a wonderful judge but parted with the federal government as a whistleblower in 1988 and began a distinguished career as an attorney in Montana with a specialized practice in social security disability.

He married Ginger Bigler Burris in 1988 and added to his family not only his cherished wife but his stepson, Matthew Creswell, whom he loved as his own.

Always an active Democrat, in 1990, he was elected as the Democratic nominee to run for the United States Congress for the Eastern District of Montana against Ron Marlenee. Though the numbers did not add up on election night such as to send him to Washington, as he did all things in his life, he distinguished himself as he campaigned honestly and with fervor and honor.

Don continued his Social Security legal practice until only a few weeks before his death. He was always proud to advocate for the poorest of the poor and the neediest of the needy. He felt there was no higher calling nor any more important reason to be an attorney.

He was a member of the Montana, California and Ohio bars, the Yellowstone County Democrats, the Montana Democratic Party, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Marine Corp League, the Chosen Few, the Shrine and the 33rd Mason. Don was recognized with the Presidential Award for work with people with disabilities.

Years ago, Don and Ginger became grandparents to Nicole, Matthew, Dustin and Sarah Scheie, each of whom they both hold very dear. They brought great joy to Don's life and he fostered them in so many ways as they grew over the years into the wonderful and distinguished young people they are today.

Judge Sheldon Shepherd and longtime Social Security hearings paralegal Lois McConnell were other special friends for whom a mention here is appropriate. He appreciated the presence of both in his life.

Don is survived by his wife, Ginger Bigler Burris, who cared for him faithfully during his final illness as she had during the 20 years of marriage they both considered themselves fortunate to have shared; his son, Brett, and his wife Cyndee, and daughter Alexa, of Seattle; his daughter, Kim, and her husband, Bob, and children Nicholas and Ryan, of Wisconsin Dell, Wis.; and his stepson, Matthew Creswell, and his wife, Shelley, and children Jade, Payge and Camille, of Sidney; his brother-in-law, Harry Bigler, and his wife Lenore of North Powder, Ore.; Holly Scheie and her children, Nicole, Matthew, Dustin and Sarah of Billings. He was predeceased by his parents; his brother, Arthur Allen Burris of Barstow, Calif.; his sisters, Sandra Jean, Margaret Louise, Anita Ann, Stacey Maxine and Donna Lou.

A military honors service for Don will be held on the 15th day of November at 11:30 a.m., outside on the family property, at 5515 Hennessey Road, Billings. Don's body has been cremated, and the ashes will be spread privately by the family.

His was a life lived honorably and well. Those who had the opportunity to know him - as husband, father, grandfather, brother, comrade, colleague, friend, advocate, opponent or judge - all were better for it. May he rest in peace.

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