Al Burnett, a highly respected entrepreneur and philanthropist and one of the University of Central Florida’s strongest supporters, passed away Friday at his summer home in Maine.
The legacy of Al Burnett and his wife, Nancy, includes a $10 million donation that laid the foundation for the UCF College of Medicine, which is transforming health care and the economy in Central Florida. Their generosity also built the beautiful home of the university’s honors college, which includes classrooms, a reading room and a popular Meditation Garden.
“One of the qualities I admired most in Al was the love and devotion he had for his family,” UCF President John C. Hitt said. “Martha and I will always treasure the friendship we shared with Al and Nancy. He touched many lives through his enormous generosity toward UCF.”
The Burnetts donated $12.8 million over more than 30 years to support UCF students and programs, and the impact of their gifts plus state matching funds totaled nearly $25 million. The university president’s home, honors college and school of biomedical sciences are named in their honor. Al Burnett also received an honorary doctorate degree from UCF.
The Burnetts’ $10 million donation established a new college of biomedical sciences at UCF in 2004. Al Burnett envisioned his gift leading to the establishment of a college of medicine that he hoped would open in five to 15 years.
The UCF College of Medicine opened five years later – in 2009, and it now enrolls 180 students. So far, $2 billion in construction is committed at medical city, of which $1.5 billion is complete or under way. The medical city has been described as the biggest economic game changer for Central Florida since Walt Disney World.
Nancy Burnett passed away last year. Following Nancy Burnett’s death, the couple’s children donated $28,000 for a graduate fellowship at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences to honor the memory of their mother.
“Their gifts have benefited thousands of students in our classrooms, in our research labs and on our athletic fields, and their generosity will continue to benefit Central Floridians for many years to come,” President Hitt said following Nancy Burnett’s death.
Al Burnett was born in Denver, Pennsylvania, and he attended Drexel University with a full athletic and academic scholarship.
His success as an entrepreneur began at a very early age. When he was five years old, he sold his mother’s vegetable soup from a red wagon. While in college, he sold Fuller Brushes door-to-door in downtown Philadelphia and managed a campus-wide candy business with his fraternity brothers. In the 1950s he established Twin Kiss, a family restaurant franchise that quickly expanded to 234 locations in 11 states.
Nancy and Al Burnett moved to Winter Park in 1966 with their family after acquisition of Contemporary Cars. During the next two decades, he expanded the dealership to include the Porsche and Audi brands. The dealership had more employees with 10 and 20 years of service than any other dealership in the United States. This was the first of 16 automobile dealerships he purchased in Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
“He was a someone who reminded us to pursue excellence, work hard, and give back to the community,” said Alvin Wang, dean of The Burnett Honors College. “These are the values that we strive to cultivate among our students.”
A memorial services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, at First United Methodist Church Winter Park, 125 N. Interlachen Ave. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be made to Pen Bay Healthcare Foundation, 22 White Street, Rockland, Maine 04851.