Thomas B. Burrows, former executive director of the Center for the Arts

Published September 23, 2022

Thomas Burrows.

Thomas B. Burrows, who spent two decades leading the Center for the Arts and molding the performance venue into an important piece of Western New York’s arts and cultural scene, died Sept. 18 in Lewiston. He was 88.

Burrows, who retired from UB in 2016, was “a true gentleman with strong character and integrity,” said Jamie Enser, the center’s executive director.

“If you had the pleasure of working with Tom, you know he was very supportive and always proud of our team,” Enser wrote in an email to staff.

“He had great passion and commitment to the performing arts and was so full of energy, charm, wit and incredible life experiences that he was always willing to share,” she wrote. “I will treasure many wonderful memories of Tom, along with the opportunities he provided and the CFA family approach that we still carry today.”

A native of Seminole, Texas, Burrows enrolled at McMurray University on a music scholarship but his switch to theater studies would set the stage for a storied career in the theater business that would span seven decades and introduce him to well-known performers, celebrities and dignitaries, including Queen Elizabeth II herself.

His resume included stints as a stage manager, director and producer; assistant to the dean of the School of Drama at Yale; general manager of the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake; general manager of the O’Keefe Center in Toronto; and general manager of Hamilton Place in Hamilton, Ont.

In 1996, Burrows arrived at UB to serve as executive director of the Center for the Arts, just two years after the venue opened on the North Campus.

He came in on a one-year contract to take over an operation that was financially floundering. Those early, developing days of the center were as uncertain as its position within the local arts community, Burrows once told UBNow.

But under his leadership, the Center for the Arts grew its audience by providing an eclectic mix of events and entertainment for all ages. All the while, he maintained the center’s dual mission of serving the university’s academic responsibilities and positively impacting the greater Buffalo community.

As a result, the Center for the Arts has welcomed more than 3 million visitors through its doors since its opening.

“The perception of the CFA is totally different than when I began,” Burrows once told UBNow.

“We are definitely recognized in Buffalo’s larger theater community because of the shows we do,” he said. “I frequently see people who tell me, ‘You do great things out there. You have a wonderful series.’ I’ve heard this for years because of the wonderful attractions we’re able to select and bring to Buffalo.”

In a story about his retirement, The Buffalo News put it this way:

“Soon after his arrival, Burrows set about building the center into an international destination for top ballet and modern dance troupes, seeking to fill what he perceived as a hole in Buffalo’s cultural makeup,” The News wrote in 2016.

“He soon built the center’s programming to include a diverse mix of theater, comedy, music, dance and student performances that made Amherst a must-visit cultural destination,” The News wrote. “Under Burrows’ leadership, the venue also functioned as an important link between the University at Buffalo and the broader community.”

Elegant and gracious, Burrows was an avid reader and cruciverbalist, a gourmet cook and baker, and a father of six.

A memorial service is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 30 at Hardison Funeral Home, 401 Ridge St., Lewiston, followed by a reception at 6 p.m. at the Artpark Mainstage Theater, 450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston.