Local Business and Civic Leader Marjorie Polk Burnett Dies at 64.
Marjorie Shapard Polk Burnett passed away on March 15, 2021 surrounded by her immediate family following a brief, but intense, battle with lung cancer.
Marjorie was born on January 12, 1957 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the daughter of Charlton Cate Polk and Laurence Norton Polk, Jr. Following high school at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, she attended The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee for her freshman year of college. During her time at Sewanee, Marjorie missed her twin sister, Betsy, immensely, and she promptly transferred to Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She graduated from Converse College in 1979 with her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Marjorie returned to Chattanooga to begin her entrepreneurial endeavors, where she met her loving husband, David Burnett, whom she joyfully married in 1983. Two children, Haynes and Betsy, followed shortly thereafter. Of all the roles Marjorie fulfilled in her life, she cherished being a mother, and later a grandmother, the most. She was fully and selflessly devoted to her children and grandchildren. Her presence in their lives will forever be missed.
Marjorie was adored not only by her family, but also by her beloved friends and members of the diverse communities she wove herself into throughout her life. Marjorie was a dedicated and lifelong member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Chattanooga. She was frequently described as “one of a kind” and “remarkable,” labels no doubt associated with her non-judgmental nature that put others at ease while making them feel like the most special person in the room. Marjorie had a natural curiosity towards people and enjoyed hearing others’ stories and life experiences. She was a kind, gentle listener filled with deep wisdom from her own life experiences. Marjorie was no stranger to difficult times, having never left her twin sister’s side during Betsy’s arduous, six-year battle with brain cancer. Despite the hardships and ups and downs of life that Marjorie endured, she remained determined to find deep joy and endless humor wherever she went. She had the most infectious laugh and disarming smile that gave people permission to be kinder and more accepting of themselves and others. Her free spirit and captivating presence inspired others not to take themselves or life too seriously.
Known for her generous and giving spirit, Marjorie remained a lifelong supporter of community and social programs. She was a founder of FORC (Feeding Our Rural Communities) in Monteagle and Sewanee. She was a top patron and supporter for The Mountain Goat Trail Alliance in Monteagle, and she served as Head Manager of the Residential Shelter Program at Chambliss Center for Children from 2002-06. During the final years of her life, Marjorie served as Trustee of the Jack Gessell Trust, a fund committed to social justice and environmental philanthropy in the Sewanee area. One of the guiding philosophies that Marjorie lived her life by was to give more than she received. Marjorie modeled the importance of being conscientious and compassionate about the struggles of all people, and she was a committed human rights advocate.
In her professional career, Marjorie founded, owned, and operated four separate successful retail stores and a restaurant, including River City Apparel and Blue Angel Café on Frazier Avenue in North Chattanooga, as well as Mountain Outfitters in Monteagle, Tennessee. Marjorie was an early proponent of the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge and a fierce believer in Frazier Avenue, establishing two businesses on the Northshore as a female entrepreneur ahead of her time. As an outdoor enthusiast, she loved working with her son Haynes at Mountain Outfitters. When she was not working, you could find her walking with her husband, David, Percy the Pug and Chug on the Mountain Goat Trail. To Marjorie, the outdoors was the most peaceful, meditative place. One of her greatest accomplishments was hiking the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain with her daughter, Betsy, in 2016. She frequently referred to her time on the Camino as a life-changing experience that renewed her spirit and reminded her of what mattered most. She was quick to encourage others to engage in their own journey of self-discovery.
The Burnett family’s deepest hope is that Marjorie’s generous and loving spirit will live on through all of those who knew and loved her and beyond. Marjorie is survived by her husband, David McCrary Burnett of Chattanooga; her daughter, Elizabeth Charlton Burnett (Betsy) of Asheville; her son, Haynes McCrary Burnett of Sewanee; her two granddaughters, Anne Charlton Burnett and Elizabeth Chiles Burnett (Betsy); her daughter-in-law, Anne Porcher Burnett; and, her son-in-law, William Jacob Farrar (Jake). Her mother, Charlton Cate Polk, and her twin sister, Elizabeth Charlton Polk Law (Betsy), precede her in death.
An epic Celebration of Life remembering Marjorie will be held on Sunday, July 18, 2021 at 4pm at Stratton Hall in Chattanooga. All who wish to join are welcome. The ceremony and celebration will take place indoors. Please note there will also be plenty of room outside on the patio with an outdoor speaker system setup for those who are more comfortable remaining outdoors. In order to keep all of our loved ones safe, vaccines are encouraged and masks are required for those not yet vaccinated. The Burnett family hopes you will join them in honoring the one and only Marjorie.
Published July 16, 2021