Vail Daily obituary: Judith Allen Burford, 1927-2015
A celebration of the life of Judith Allen Burford, the matriarch of a longtime and well-known western Colorado ranching family, will be held Friday from 2-5 p.m. at the University Center Terrace on the CMU campus in Grand Junction.
Mrs. Burford died Thursday after a long battle with cancer. She was 88.
She will long be remembered for her service to various agricultural organizations in Colorado, and her strong ties to a variety of civic organizations and the Republican Party.
To her four surviving children she will always be known as a wonderful mother, even with a willow switch in hand, and as keeper of the secret bean recipe.
Mrs. Burford was born on July 22, 1927, in Denver, the daughter of Joe and Helen Allen. She and her three siblings, Jean, Joyce and Richard grew up in Eagle, where their father was a banker. In 1944, she graduated from Eagle High School and four years later earned a fine arts degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she was a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Her devotion to CU-Boulder was to last the rest of her life. She served on the CU Foundation board of directors and for many years was a season ticket holder to Colorado football games.
On March 17, 1951, she married Robert “Bob” F. Burford. The couple operated a sheep ranch on Lake Creek in Eagle County, near Edwards. The sheep wintered near Fruita.
Daughter Joyce remembers summers on Lake Creek as “idyllic and beautiful” but also filled with hard work. “Mom raised her family, kept house, grew and maintained large flower and vegetable gardens, cooked all the meals and prepared for the family pack trips to move sheep camp deep in the heart of New York Mountain and surrounding Rockies.”
Mrs. Burford’s son Kelley has other memories of life on Lake Creek. Some are not idyllic.
“I remember when my brothers and cousins were at the Lake Creek ranch. We were little, too little to be wandering near a treacherous mountain stream by ourselves. But we got bored one afternoon. We took off toward the creek, a half mile or so away from the house. We could see the house and the road leading to the house and there was a car roaring down the road toward us with dust billowing behind. We knew we were in trouble. My mom and my aunt roared to a stop near us and got out. We took off for the house as fast as we could, with mom hot on our heels switching us with a willow branch.”
In the early 1970s, the Burford family sold the Lake Creek ranch and began cattle ranching near Grand Junction on Little Park and Pinon Mesa.
The livestock may have changed, but the demanding, but satisfying, work of ranch life did not. The family spent spring and summers branding calves, trailing cows to Pinon Mesa, fixing fence and hauling water. When Bob and Judith divorced in 1981, she remained active in the operations of the ranch and maintained her memberships in the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the National Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Farm Bureau.
It was during those years that Mrs. Burford’s bean recipe developed a cult following.
“Every May, we’d brand about 600 head of calves outside of Grand Junction on the desert,” her son Dick recalled. “Judy was in charge of providing lunch for all the hands, generally 18-20 people. She always made a huge pot of pinto beans that was the highlight of her spread. Pretty soon, word got out about ‘Judy’s beans’ and each spring we’d have more and more people showing up to ‘help’ with branding, but we all knew they really there for her famous beans. To this day, none of us can duplicate her beans. I fear the secret of ‘Judy’s beans’ died with her.”
Mrs. Burford was more than a mother and ranch woman. She was an organizer for several state and local committees, councils and foundations. Politics and civic activity were life-long interests inherited from her father.
She was appointed to the Governor’s Job Training Coordinating Council in 1986 by then-Gov. Dick Lamm, was active in the University of Colorado Foundation, and was chairman of the Mesa County Republican Central Committee.
In 2007, she was named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.
She was as comfortable trailing cattle on horseback as she was dressing up and attending various political events. In 1984, she met first lady Nancy Reagan in the White House and later that year attended the National Republican Convention in Dallas.
Mrs. Burford will be remembered for her love and dedication to her family, her work ethic and commitment to civic involvement, her love of ranching and agriculture, and her generosity, infectious laugh and sense of fun.
Judith Burford is survived by her children, Joe Burford, of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and his wife, Shirley; Kelley Burford, of Grand Junction, and his wife, Nancy; Dick Burford, of Morrill, Nebraska, and his wife, Deborah; and Joyce Burford, of Frisco, and her husband, Gary Wilkinson. She has seven grandchildren, Bob Burford, of Mitchell, Nebraska, and his wife, Brooke; Susan Burford, of Scottsbluff, Nebraska; Madeline Johnson, of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and her husband, Nathan; Doug Burford, of Denver, and his wife, Elesha; Alex Burford, of Greeley; James Burford, of Morrill, Nebraska; Leslie Burford, of Morrill, Nebraska; and two great-grandchildren, Braxton and Brilee Burford.
Memorial contributions in her name can be made to:
• Hope West Hospice, 3090 North 12th St, Suite B, Grand Junction, CO 81506.
• Western Slope Center for Children, 259 Grand Ave., Grand Junction, CO 81501.
• CU Foundation, P.O. Box 17126, Denver, CO 80217.