In Memoriam –
Billie Ann Burrill, RIC emerita professor

Billie Ann Burrill
Billie Ann Burrill, RIC associate emerita professor of health and physical education and founder of the RIC Dance Company, died March 3 at the age of 88. She had been battling colon cancer.

Burrill, who received a doctor of fine arts from RIC in 2005, was known for achievement and excellence in the performing arts, physical education, and during her retirement years, as a world record-setting competitive swimmer.

A native of Joliet, Ill., she began her 26-year career at RIC in 1954 as a member of the physical education faculty, where she twice served as department chair.

Burrill designed or originated 17 new course offerings for the then-Dept. of Health, Physical Education, and Dance.

She founded and became the first director of the RIC Dance Company, and also served as technical director and lighting designer for the company for 20 years.

She was also director of the college’s Performing Arts Series, transforming the three-event a-year series into a diverse, professional showcase of the arts that has become a widely popular venue recognized for its exceptional quality.

Under her leadership, the series featured performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Marcel Marceau, Ella Fitzgerald and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as well as productions by the Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, and Alvin Ailey dance companies.

Burrill displays her swimming medals in this 1991 What's News photo.
She was also a major financial contributor to the Performing Arts Series.

Burrill organized a folk dance club on campus, and served as coach of a championship RIC women’s fencing team, with one member of the team claiming the national title. She also organized the New England Women’s Intercollegiate Fencing Association and served as its president.

Beyond the college, she was stage manager for the first-ever performance of modern dance at the Lincoln Center in New York and manager for seven years for the American Dance Festival.

In 1980, Burrill retired from teaching, though she remained an active member of the RIC community.

But while her professional career was complete, some of her greatest accomplishments were yet to come.

To ease the pain of arthritis, she took up swimming and soon entered the field competitively. In her first meet at the age of 64, she won four events and eventually earned over 300 gold medals, including first-place medals just weeks after undergoing a total hip replacement.

She was an All-American swimmer from 1993-2000 and also in 2002. She established world records in 1983, 1987, and 1994.

Burrill, center, demonstrates the golf swing for students in an undated photo.
According to her obituary in the Providence Journal, Burrill received a R.I. Women of the Year award in theatre in 1975, and was in the 1977-78 Who's Who of American Women. She was also in the North Providence Sports Hall of Fame in 1988, and the 1990 R.I. Aquatic Hall of Fame as well as a 2000 inductee into the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame.

In 1999, she received the Gini Duarte Female Athlete of the Year Award for “having displayed the highest level of skill, sportsmanship and integrity, and for her contributions to the betterment of women’s sports.”

Burrill enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 and rose to the rank of captain, serving in the Pacific Theatre, where she was awarded four medals. Following her military service, she earned a bachelor of science from Boston University and a master of science in physical education from Smith College.

Before coming to RIC she was on the physical education faculty at the University of Connecticut and Connecticut College.

Donations in her memory can be made to the Billie Ann Burrill Endowed Fund at Rhode Island College to benefit the Rhode Island College Dance program.