In 1981, Sandy Burnette ordered for me my first Tanqueray and tonic at the University Club in Tampa.  I was 22 years old and a clerk for Paul Butler. Sandy Burnette was a legal God to arson investigators and a new associate attorney to Butler’s property insurance firm, which numbered less than five attorneys. Paul Butler’s insurance defense firm has now grown to over 125 lawyers.

Ever have a mischievous friend who was smart and still a dedicated professional? Sandy Burnette was that type of person. A cigar was never far from him after 5.  He would joke and cut up until the judge walked into the courtroom. He feigned being the ignorant gringo while listening to those speaking Spanish behind his back not letting on that he lived in Barcelona and majored in Spanish. I listened to Sandy tell the best golf jokes, even the Almighty must have laughed, while playing on Pebble Beach with insurance attorneys, Don Carlson and Tom Brown.

As a young clerk, I baby and dog sat for Sandy and Susan Burnette. Susan is a saint and rightfully could have killed Sandy. But all of us who had the opportunity are better for knowing Sandy and thank Susan for sharing him with us.

Here is what Jack Ward said about Sandy in 2015:

In recognition of over 30 years of dedication to the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention, Guy. E (Sandy) Burnette Jr. was honored at this years opening ceremony.

The scholarship program that allows public safety professionals the opportunity to attend the annual training conference free of charge was renamed The Guy E. “Sandy” Burnette Public Service Scholarship” in honor of his passion for sharing knowledge.

Congratulations Sandy and thank you for all your hard work.

The insurance industry loves him. But Sandy Burnette was always kind to me even after I left his firm. He invited me to speak and provide an opposing view. Here is one that I noted while speaking at the International Association of Arson Investigators— an opportunity I wouldn’t have had but for Sandy looking out for me:

Guy “Sandy” Burnette invited me to speak at the International Association of Special Investigation Units over a decade ago. I was the token insurance attorney for policyholders. During my presentation, I cautioned that the two major human problems facing fraud investigators would be the issue of wrongly accusing innocent people of fraud and the tendency of some in an investigative role to view everybody as a potential crook. Well meaning or not, seventeenth century witch hunts can be repeated by modern groups. If all you concentrate upon in life is uncovering fraud, you may start seeing signs of it everywhere.

I enjoy those with a quick mind, and Sandy had that along with a quick tongue. Sandy made the best courtroom objections I have ever heard. Yet, when he and I gave a presentation at the Windstorm Insurance Conference several years ago, it was obvious to me that Sandy had an illness that eventually caught him this past fall.  

I am grateful and blessed to have been a friend of Sandy Burnette and a better person and lawyer for it. Today, there is a service in Sandy’s honor. Here is a tribute published after his death:

Guy E. (Sandy) Burnette died on November 8th after a five year battle with Corticobasil Degeneration. Sandy passed away at home attended by his wife of 42 years, Susan, his younger son Kevin, and with aid from Hospice. Kevin’s selfless decision to return home allowed his father to remain in a safe and loving environment during the final two years of this terrible illness.

Sandy was the proud descendant of two Tampa founding families, the McKay’s and Gutierrez’s. His great-great-grandfather James McKay settled his family in Tampa in 1846. He helped develop the Port of Tampa, built the county’s first permanent courthouse, and served as one of its first mayors. His grandfather, D.B. McKay, served as mayor for five terms and owned the Tampa Times newspaper. Sandy’s mother Celestina McKay Burnette joined the Women’s Army Corps, during W.WII, rising to the rank of Major, retiring when she married Air Force Colonel Guy E. Burnette, Sr.

Raised in Tampa, Sandy went to Jesuit High School before attending Vanderbilt University. After graduating in 1974, he enrolled at FSU’s College of Law where he graduated in 1977. Sandy worked as an attorney for over 38 years, with a practice primarily dedicated to civil litigation, forensic fire consulting, and fire service/law enforcement training.

Sandy was a certified instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center/ATF National Academy, the Pat Thomas/Lively Law Enforcement Training Center, and the Florida Fire College. He delivered lectures at conferences and training academies throughout the world and devoted himself to numerous organizations dedicated to fighting arson and insurance fraud. Sandy was a Director of the IAAI where he served 35 years as a Legal Advisor to their Florida Chapter, was a past President of FACAP, and was a life member of both organizations. He also served as past Chair of the Property Insurance Law Committee of the American Bar Association.

His work earned him numerous accolades including the Award of Recognition from the Department of Justice and the Silver Hammer Award from the Vice President of the United States. Sandy was recognized as an AV Preeminent Attorney by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest peer review rating in the legal profession.

Sandy will be remembered by his many friends for his taste for Arturo Fuente cigars, his unique and wonderful wit, and his love for his favorite football team, the Seminoles.

We miss you Sandy, and I will be thinking of you on Gasparilla Day.