Friends Remember Ed Burnett

A special event was held at the close of this month’s List Vision conference as friends and co-workers of the late Ed Burnett gathered to reminisce about the direct marketing legend. Burnett, who trained and mentored many of today’s most prominent executives in the list business, died Feb. 25 of pneumonia in California at age 90. The New York setting was the best time for many people to gather, some of whom remarked that they hadn’t seen one another in more than a decade. Also in attendance was 95-year-old Clair Earne, Burnett’s bookkeeper of 50 years.

One of the 30-plus attendees brought a DVD of Burnett’s appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” from the 1980s. On it, Burnett – who called himself a list merchandiser – gave Letterman a primer on the list industry, and they discussed the types of lists that Burnett rented, including a file of 1,860 affluent Arabs. Now, who would want to reach affluent Arabs, Letterman asked. In a heartbeat, Burnett answered, “Well, someone who might be selling a jet plane, David. Who else would you sell a jet plane to?”

At the dinner, which was organized by SK&A’s Susan McNamara, former Burnett employees shared stories about their introduction to direct marketing. Several had little – or no – knowledge of the business. D&B’s Mike Kroll said he started at Ed Burnett Consultants 20 years ago: “I was sitting at my desk and had my sandwich in front of me. Ed came up to me and asked, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘I said, Mike Kroll, Mr. Burnett.’ ‘No, no, no. Call me E.B.’ At that point, he took a bite out of my sandwich and walked away. … It just got more interesting after that.”

John Palmer described a Direct Marketing Association conference he attended with Burnett, who had invited some clients to his suite: “When we entered the suite, Goulda [Burnett’s wife] was doing a headstand naked in the living room. Ed never batted an eye. … He invited everybody to sit down on the couches. Goulda had the presence of mind to excuse herself, although it wouldn’t have mattered to Ed. I think that says a lot about what Ed was. He was Ed, and he appreciated life and he appreciated what everybody did around him.”

Tad Clarke is editor in chief of DM News. His editorial appears Mondays on and in our e-mail newsletter. You can subscribe to our e-mail newsletters by visiting

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