Behind the Names

Two Burnett women have shaped TCU’s past, present and future.

TCU 150 Gradient Logo

The contributions of Mary Couts Burnett and Anne Burnett Marion to TCU are being celebrated during the sesquicentennial. Photo by James Anger

Behind the Names

Two Burnett women have shaped TCU’s past, present and future.

Though neither Mary Couts Burnett nor Anne Burnett Marion was a TCU graduate, the philanthropists provided such significant financial support that without them the university might not exist today.

Burnett ensured TCU’s survival by leading it through the Great Depression with a seminal $3 million gift.

A century later, Marion, her great-granddaughter by marriage, co-authored the university’s next chapter with landmark gifts to the new medical school.

“It’s quite humbling to think about what these remarkable women have done for TCU,” said Don Whelan, vice chancellor for university advancement. “While they lived in different times and were engaged with our university at very different stages of its development, they knew that resources would enable us to accomplish our goals and become a force for the greater good.”

A Socialite Start

Mary Couts Burnett (1856-1924) grew up in nearby Weatherford, Texas. Her banker father, Col. James Couts, revered TCU co-founder Addison Clark.

In 1892, Couts married Samuel “Burk” Burnett (1849-1922), a rancher and oilman who owned the 266,000-acre Four Sixes Ranch about 200 miles northwest of TCU. They maintained a palatial home on Fort Worth’s Summit Avenue while Burk Burnett continued working as a cowboy on the ranch.

The couple’s only child, Burk Burnett Jr., succumbed to a rare cancer at age 21.

Mary Couts Burnett gave TCU a needed boost when she left the university $3 million in the 1920s. Courtesy of TCU Library Special Collections

Late in her life and in a surprise move, Burnett willed TCU the bulk of her estate. At the time, the gift of about $3 million was one of the largest fortunes left to an educational institution in Texas history.

“Mary Couts Burnett helped create a culture of philanthropy here that still exists today,” Whelan said. “Her gift, unprecedented at its time, changed the trajectory of our university.”

Her philanthropic investment would equal over $52 million in today’s dollars.

“I think a lot of the reasoning for her to give to TCU is because she didn’t get to see her beloved son grow into adulthood,” said Mary Saffell, senior archivist at TCU’s Mary Couts Burnett Library.

“She admired that you didn’t have to be a particular faith or gender to attend school here,” said Kerri Menchaca, a TCU archival specialist who has done extensive research on the library benefactor.

A longtime patron of the Fort Worth public library, Burnett relished the idea that the university would construct a library in her honor. The university spent $150,000 of her largesse on the building and its contents.

Burnett died before the building that bears her name was completed in 1925.

“More than a hundred women from TCU went to her funeral,” said Tracy Hull, dean of the Mary Couts Burnett Library. “She was a woman in control of her own fortune and destiny, and that was inspiring.”

TCU spent $150,000 of Mary Couts Burnett’s $3 million donation on a library that would take her name. Photo by James Anger

Taking the Reins

Anne Burnett Tandy, Burk’s only grandchild, continued the family tradition by making sizable contributions to the university starting in the mid-1970s.

Tandy’s daughter, Anne Burnett Marion, joined the TCU Board of Trustees in 1979 and a year later began running the Four Sixes. She was founder and chairman of Burnett Oil and president of The Burnett Foundation, which awarded more than $600 million in charitable gifts throughout its 40-year history. Recipients included the Modern Art Museum, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which she co-founded, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Anne Burnett Marion gave $25 million in 2019 to establish a foundation to support TCU’s medical school in perpetuity. A second $25 million gift arrived in 2022. Photo by Robert Woo/Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Educational philanthropy was another ongoing pursuit of hers. During her lifetime, Marion sent “countless young men and women” to college, many of whom were children of ranch employees, said Neils Agather, executive director of The Burnett Foundation at the time of her death.

“Hers was a quiet philanthropy,” he said. “She poured her heart and soul into the ranch and took that same approach with giving.”

Dee Kelly Jr., who began serving on TCU’s Board of Trustees in 2018, was also a trustee of The Burnett Foundation. “She was very humble in that you rarely see her name on buildings, though she gave to a great number of construction projects,” he said.

The Burnett Foundation supported the expansion of the Dee J. Kelly Alumni & Visitors Center in 2016. In 2018, the foundation provided funding for the TCU Music Center project.

In 2019, the year TCU’s medical school opened, she gave $25 million to establish the Anne W. Marion Endowment to support the medical school in perpetuity. “She loved impactful projects, and the TCU School of Medicine is just that,” said Windi Grimes, Marion’s only child.

Toward the end of her life, Marion decided that she wanted the ranch, larger in acreage than Fort Worth, to be sold. In 2022, two years after her death, Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan led a group of buyers that purchased the Four Sixes.

A second $25 million gift was revealed six months later in July 2022, coinciding with the announcement that the medical school would become known as the Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine.

“This generosity empowers us to continue recruiting and nurturing talented and diverse students who are shaping the future of medicine and health care in an abundance of ways,” said Dr. Stuart D. Flynn, the founding dean of the School of Medicine. “We continue to carry out the vision of creating physicians who are knowledgeable and compassionate caregivers.”

Your comments are welcome


  1. The arts, literature, and medicine go hand in hand with one’s well-being in a fast paced technology driven modern world. I’m a proud TCU Alumni, who recognizes what my daughter Kerri has referenced in this article to be true, that TCU faith-based foundation is the corner stone to an exceptional and diverse advanced education.
    Richard A. Sukup, P.E.,
    MSc., M.J.Neeley School of Business 1977

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