PORTSMOUTH – The Southern Ohio community lost one of its biggest advocates this week with the passing of local attorney and entrepreneur Jeremy Burnside.
Burnside, born June 28, 1978, was a graduate of Charleston University. He later received his law degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, West Virginia. He moved to Portsmouth in 2009 to start his firm, Burnside Law.
In the short time Burnside lived in Scioto County, he touched hundreds upon hundreds of lives. Whether it was in the courtroom where he advocated for his clients, with the Friends of Portsmouth (FOP) organization helping to change the narrative in the city, outside helping to paint curbs and picking trash while volunteering, or simply raising his beautiful family, Burnside’s profound positive energy was both meaningful and impactful in the community.
That was never clearer than after news of his passing spread across social media on Wednesday. Hundreds of community members spoke out, telling stories and sharing memories of the local icon.
“The passing of Jeremy Burnside is a devastating loss to his family and our community,” said Portsmouth Mayor Sean Dunne. “It’s impossible to quantify all that he has done for Portsmouth, nor can we find the adequate words to describe how lucky we’ve been to know him. One of the last times I saw him was at Patties n Pints. We spoke for a bit, and I dropped off some Irish potato chips to the table he and Maddie were sitting at. He wasn’t feeling the best, so he decided to walk outside for some fresh air. I watched as he was walking out, and then noticed him stop and turn back towards me to make sure he could say goodbye and wish me well before leaving. While it may seem like a small gesture, I couldn’t think of how it helps explain his character. Despite all he was dealing with, he always kept others on his mind.”
Dunne has nominated Burnside as the All-America City Leader award for his civic engagement and volunteerism. The award is in its inaugural year from the National Civic League.
“They announce the winner of the contest this month. It’s hard to imagine that Jeremy will not be their first choice,”Dunne said.
The Friends of Portsmouth, a community service organization Burnside helped to form, created a heartfelt video and posted it on social media. In the video, FOP members Tim Wolfe and Sara Mauk shared their memories of Burnside and his impact within the community.
“(Jeremy) was our guy,” said the Friends of Portsmouth in a post on Facebook. “Our energetic, nothing is ever enough, fearless leader, Jeremy. He was the ultimate inspiration of dreaming, building, living, and most of all, loving. He moved here. Loved here. Raised a family here. Changed lives here. Built a business here. Dreamt here. Broke records here. And left a legacy here. He is irreplaceable. But we will strive to continue his mission. We will keep doing his work. We will keep pushing forward and paying it forward. Our hearts are heavy, but this city will make its greatest comeback yet; in your name, your honor, and your spirit. Rest in peace, dear friend.”
Burnside also worked alongside other organizations such as Final Friday in Boneyfiddle and the Portsmouth Unity Project. Professor Drew Feight shared memories of Burnside’s historic preservation work.
“Like so many in our community, I too am mourning the passing of Jeremy Burnside, a visionary and inspirational friend who shared my love of Portsmouth history and my belief in the city’s future, one that would emphasize historic preservation, embrace diversity, and memorialize the community’s involvement in the Underground Railroad and the movement to abolish slavery,” said Feight.
“As part of his contribution to the Portsmouth Unity Project’s celebration of Emancipation Day, Jeremy brought Milton Kennedy – a long forgotten abolitionist, UGRR conductor, and founder of the Scioto County, Ohio and national Republic Party – to life for the public. Jeremy’s connection to Kennedy came from his and Maddie’s efforts to save and renovate Kennedy’s Feed Store and City Hall Building on Second Street. Both Burnside and Kennedy are classic Portsmouth dreamers and builders, both newcomers to the river city who made our town a much better place.”
Final Friday founder Rob Black also spoke out on social media.
“One of my early memories of Jeremy was in 2015 when our Final Friday in Boneyfiddle concerts were held on a small field on Second Street,” remembered Black. “In those days, I wondered if anybody would even show up to listen to our local lineups. Jeremy did! There he was, sprawled out on a blanket, arms back, legs outstretched with a Cleveland Browns jersey on with a smile on his face while Maddie and his daughters were by his side.”
“In his short life, Jeremy accomplished things others would be in awe of. I sure was! Throughout our friendship, we shared a mutual support of each other’s efforts and a love of this small Appalachian community.”
Even local businesses posted on social media to pay tribute to Burnside.
“Two years ago, Jeremy approached us with the idea of moving to this new location,” wrote Fourth Space Games. “As he told us, he wanted Portsmouth to be the gaming capital of America. This wasn’t just a dream, though. It was a vision. Despite his declining health, Jeremy put more hours, effort, and money into this new location than he would be willing to admit. This is a loss we cannot even put into words. We wanted Jeremy to share in the dream that he helped build. We wanted him to experience a true Fourth Space Games event, and to see us flourish. Heartbroken isn’t the right word to use – we are devastated. Jeremy truly did more for us than we could even ask. This is true for all of Portsmouth. The last decade of his life has been dedicated to giving to our community.”
“As I walk around town, there is not a memory or building without Jeremy Burnside’s touch,” wrote Cinnamon Wellington, owner of the Happy Pot. “In a community drowned by negativity, Jeremy was able to have his famous ideas and remind you that your voice matters and you can make a positive change. Our hearts are heavy, but Heaven now has Portsmouth’s biggest cheerleader. Jeremy is an amazing husband, father, brother, and son. Please pray for comfort and peace as we honor our friend.”
Burnside’s brother in law and former Councilman Edwin Martell sat down with the Daily Times and talked about Burnside’s influence.
“Jeremy was not only my brother in law, he was my mentor. I looked up to Jeremy like no one else,” said Martell. “Jeremy changed our world here in Portsmouth. He loved his family. He was a great father to his girls. He was a great husband to his wife. But he also loved this community. No matter what your background was, he would treat you in a way that made you feel like family.”
“I saw the impact he made. He was truly a leader. When he volunteered, he would be the first one out there painting curbs or picking up trash. And he inspired everyone around him with his positive energy. He had such an aura around him that made you feel obligated to match that energy and that positivity,” Martell said. “That’s what made him a leader. And that’s what inspired me to become involved and make a difference, too.”
Martell said Burnside loved his adoptive home of Portsmouth.
“This City is going to miss him. It’s going to miss his positive energy. Jeremy loved Portsmouth and that love shined in every single thing he did. It’s what allowed him to will all these things he’s done into existence…I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss what he has done for Portsmouth. And I’m going to miss watching him with his family and his little girls.”
The loss of Burnside will be felt for a long time in Portsmouth, Ohio, but it is clear that his legacy will live on.
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