Remembering Dave Burns March 23, 1947-December 14, 2010

Submitted by admin on Tue, 12/21/2010 - 02:14

MEMORIAL-- Tuesday Dec 28 at 2 pm in Williamstown at the First Congregational Church, in the chapel downstairs

Watch the video Dave's sister Mecca made here:

Freedom Center celebrates our memories of Dave Burns, one of the original Freedom Center organizers. Dave's activism led to important reforms in the Northampton area mental health system, by exposing and denouncing abuses and pressing for improved treatment. He was a key organizer in local group homes and among mental health consumers in Northampton, who he met on the streets and in low income residences. Dave was also an important link to movement history, because he lived in RD Laing's therapeutic communities in London. He was a great guy and his spirit is very much alive in the work of the Freedom Center.


Will Hall writes, "Dave was a deeply creative and spiritual person who turned his own emotional and psychological struggles into a unique positive stance and attitude towards life. He was one of the founding organizers of Freedom Center and led the shaping of Freedom Center's first successful activist campaign. Dave was a very dear and beloved friend, very bright, very funny, and lived a way of seeing the world that was all his own. He will be deeply missed."

Listen to a great interview with Dave here:


Read Dave's testimony on our Speakout pages here.

Read Dave's manuscript about living with RD Laing's therapeutic communties in London here.

Read Dave's essay Mapping the Labyrinth here.



Here is the obituary written by his sister Mecca:



David Burns

March 23, 1947-December 14, 2010


David MacGregor Burns, 63, died peacefully on Tuesday, December 14, in Leeds, Mass.,

after a long, heroic struggle with colon cancer.


David was born in Boston, Mass. on March 23, 1947, the first child of Janet Thompson

(Burns) Keep and James MacGregor Burns, of Williamstown. A brilliant student and an inventive

craftsman, David attended Pine Cobble School and graduated from Mt. Greylock Regional High

School in 1964, at the top of his class, a National Honor Society merit scholar. After spending a

year in France studying the French language he attended Harvard College from 1965-1969 and

later graduated with a B.A. in psychology. During the 1970s he participated the Kingsley Hall

therapeutic community in London founded by radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing. Over many years

of study and practice David grew deeply knowledgeable about psychological and somatic

processes and helped people deal with their demons through imagery, movement and



David was ahead of his time in seeing the health and environmental dangers of pesticides, chemical preservatives, and common additives to everyday products. Throughout his adult life he suffered from and was uplifted by experiences labeled obsessive compulsive disorder by the mental health system, which Dave preferred to call "Howard Hughes syndrome" and embraced from a creative and spiritual perspective. He found serenity through innerwork, yoga practice, and spending time in nature.


A decade ago he co-founded the Freedom Center in Northampton, a nonprofit

dedicated to eliminating psychiatric abuse and pursuing alternatives to medication. “Dave had a

big impact on all of us,” his colleague Will Hall recalled, “and was central in the early days of the

Freedom Center.” David wrote eloquently about his personal experience in emotional healing

and, like a modern-day Thoreau, about his encounters with the natural world.


David’s passionate quest for spiritual and psychological healing, for himself and others,

was disrupted when he was diagnosed with colon cancer six years ago. But his soulful writing

about his life and his struggles reached new heights of beauty during the sunset of his life. His

extraordinary sense of humor stayed with him until the end.


David leaves behind his parents, his brother Stewart, sisters Deborah and Mecca,

nephew Sean McHugh, nieces Tess McHugh, Chelsea Leventhal, and Alethea Leventhal, and

many cousins. His family will gather together to remember him. Donations in his name to the

Freedom Center.


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