Family Find for May
Robert Allen Burford, Jr.
Robert was born September 16, 1887, in Troy, Alabama. He was the first of six children of Robert Allen Burford, Sr. (1856-1938) and Ella Louise Murphree Burford (1862-1945). Robert, Sr. relocated the family from Troy to Ocala, Florida, about 1890. In this place, he served as district attorney for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. He also built Burford House, an expansive family home that is now part of the Ocala Historic District.
With an innate sense of purpose and his own genteel manner, Robert, Jr. was a natural leader. Popular and studious in high school, he performed equally well in athletics, writing and public speaking. In June 1903, these qualities helped assure his acceptance into the U.S. Naval Academy.
Nicknamed “Dolphin Chaser” by fellow cadets, Robert lettered in wrestling, gymnastics and track – and even won a silver medal for breaking the Navy’s pole-vaulting record in a field trial with Yale. In 1907, he made local headlines for circling the globe as a junior officer aboard the USS New Jersey and graduating from the Academy before his twenty-first birthday.
While stationed with the New Jersey in Boston, Ensign Burford met Amy Lillian McGraw (1891-1969). She was the only child of businessman, Walter A. McGraw, and his wife, Ida J. Choate McGraw of nearby Malden, Massachusetts. After a short engagement, Robert and Amy surprised their friends October 30, 1909, with a Navy wedding during a Halloween party at the McGraw home.
The couple honeymooned in Florida, then returned to Boston, where their first daughter, Virginia (1911-1998), was born. Another girl, Barbara, arrived in 1919. All the while, Robert continued to serve the Navy at home and abroad. In January 1917, he enlisted in World War I and, by 1919, was promoted to lieutenant commander.
In the meantime, Robert’s brother, Wylie Haralson Burford, left his law studies at the University of Florida to join the U.S. Army. Tragically, on February 14, 1918, Wylie was shot and killed in France – the first Floridian to fall in the Great War. Newspapers across the country expressed condolences, citing Wylie’s heritage, scholarship and patriotism.
The Buford family persevered through the transitional post-war years. According to the U.S. Census of 1920, Robert relocated his family to Ocala, and lived at Burford House with his parents and siblings Mary, Agnes and Samuel. Robert’s father worked as a lawyer, while Robert, Jr. and Sam were engineers.
Sometime between 1922 and 1924, Robert and Amy lived in Birmingham, Alabama, where Robert managed Burford, Hall and Smith, a power plant equipment supply company. His third daughter, Eloise, was born in Birmingham in 1923. Three years later, Robert and Amy relocated to Tampa, Florida, where Robert was a civil engineer.
Whether due to a work accident or natural causes, Robert died intestate in Hillsborough Co., Florida, March 31, 1927. His daughter, Eloise, died three years later. Amy remained in Florida with Virginia and Barbara. She served as vice president of Tampa Arctic Ice Co., and later owned a design business. By 1935, she was working for Henderson Real Estate Co. Amy passed away in Tampa on October 31, 1969 – one day after her and Robert’s sixtieth wedding anniversary.
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