Caroline Anderson Burnett, 97, a tenacious polio survivor

Caroline A. Burnett
Caroline A. Burnett
Posted: September 03, 2014

Caroline Anderson Burnett, 97, formerly of Swarthmore, a polio survivor who defied doctors' predictions that she would never walk again or have a child, died Monday, Aug. 25, of causes related to aging at her home at Kendal at Longwood.

"My mom faced life's challenges with bravery, dignity, tenacity, and good humor," said her daughter, Betsy Burnett.

Mrs. Burnett grew up during the Great Depression, attended Douglass College on a full scholarship, and married in 1946 when Lucian Burnett returned from World War II.

In 1953, tragedy struck. Her 6-month-old son, Bradford, fell ill with polio and died. Mrs. Burnett also became ill, and at first was totally paralyzed.

But when Mrs. Burnett was told she would never walk again or have children, she began a grueling physical therapy regimen. She regained most of her strength, and two years later, ignoring doctors' advice, she bore a healthy baby girl.

Mrs. Burnett worked at the Prudential Insurance Co. before marriage and later worked as a public relations consultant in Philadelphia.

Mrs. Burnett was committed to community service, serving as a tutor to schoolchildren, a Girl Scout leader, and a volunteer at a refugee house. She supported Planned Parenthood and gun-control initiatives, and, at age 90, organized a get-out-the-vote phone campaign for Barack Obama.

Her early experiences made her savor what she had.

"Mrs. Burnett lived every minute of her life to the fullest and often expressed her gratitude at her life, as one filled with family, friends, civic involvement, and love," her relatives said in a tribute.

Mrs. Burnett met her future husband at the Quaintance Club at the East Orange (N.J.) Presbyterian Church; he was president of the 150-member social club. Lucian Burnett would go on to become mayor of Swarthmore after the couple moved there in 1951.

The two traveled the world - to South America, Kashmir, Russia, and the Middle East. They moved to Kendal at Longwood in 1993.

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Burnett is survived by a son, Larry, and three grandchildren. Her husband died in 2010.

A memorial service will be held early next year.

Donations may be made to Planned Parenthood - Southeastern Pennsylvania via


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