A Life Lived: Jim Burroughs

Rose and Jim Burroughs, seen last year at a family wedding, met as members of different marching bands and went on to lead Atlantic City's Neptune's Guard Drum and Bugle Corps.

Burroughs family photo

When he was a kid growing up in Atlantic City, one thing that really made an impression on Jim Burroughs was being part of a drum and bugle corps.

It made such a big impression that, 54 years later, he was still part of a drum and bugle corps.

Burroughs' years in the world of parade precision ended last month, when he died at 71. By then, he had long since given up being a regular marcher and gone on to lead the Neptune's Guard Drum and Bugle Corps.

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Jim shared that role with his wife, who has been part of Neptune's Guard and its predecessors even longer than her husband - 57 years. She started at 11 and became a leader at 17.

The couple knew such groups can change kids' lives, partly because marching music changed their own. Jim and Rose met when each was in a band - different bands - and went on to have five kids and four grandchildren.

"We definitely teach the kids discipline - you discipline yourself before we discipline you," Rose said, listing some of the rules. "You have to take care of what you have, because you never know when you're going to get more."

Jim had plenty of discipline himself. He spent 30 years in the New Jersey National Guard and 30 years as a police officer in Atlantic City. He retired in 1995 from his job as a police-academy drill instructor.

And even though he had a job to do, Jim was the kind of guy who did not mind giving a break when he could.

"If he wrote one ticket book in his whole 30 years, I'd be shocked," said Joe Beaman Sr., of Williamstown, Gloucester County, Jim's lifelong friend and colleague as young cops in the 1960s. "He would talk to you more than arrest you, try to talk somebody into living a better life. ... Most of the time, if he ran into kids he could help ... and there was no criminal offense, he'd help them."

Fountain Hamlett still remembers the first time he saw Burroughs and Neptune's Guard - during a 1980s parade on his Atlantic City street.

"You saw this big man marching with them, and he just looked proud. He took pride in everything he did in the drum corps," Hamlett said.

Hamlett, his brother and sister joined a few years later. Now, at 40, Hamlett has been involved for 25 years, and he has had his troubles over those years - including depression and a broken neck in a 2007 work accident.

"He treated me like a son" Hamlett said, which partly meant that, "Oh, he would tell me like it is. But he also said, ‘Whenever things feel bad, you just come on home - and home is the drill team.'"

That was home for Jim Burroughs, too, especially when he retired.

"Those kids were his life," his wife said. "Without those kids and the drum corps, I don't know what he would have done."

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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