Dr. José Marîa Burruel

Dr. José Marîa Burruel


In October 2021, a well-known name in the Arcadia neighborhood – Dr. José María Burruel – passed away, leaving a tremendous void in the place he loved and called home.

“José was a change agent,” his wife, Francis, said. “When he knew he was right, he didn’t back off. He was an advocate for those who needed help, and he helped people to help themselves. José cared about everyone, and he so loved Arcadia and the community.”

Born in Phoenix, Burruel lost his father in a smelting accident at an early age and was subsequently raised by his mother, who worked as a cleaning lady to support her family. 

Burruel left high school and joined the Navy, serving during World War II. He followed in his older brother’s footsteps and became a submariner until he was injured in combat. He then returned to Arizona and attended Arizona State University, where he played baseball. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in education, Burruel became a teacher. His career took him to Santa Monica, CA, where he worked with elementary students.

“He enjoyed teaching,” Francis said. “He always believed in education and believed that it was the answer. He had a motto he used to say, ‘They can take away your car, they can take away your house, but they can never take away your education.’”

While living and working in California, Burruel not only earned a master’s degree in education at the University of Southern California – this is where he also met and married Francis. In 1978, he and his bride moved to Phoenix and settled in Arcadia, at Jokake and Camelback Road, where the couple lived for 42 years.

“I remember that Jose irrigated our trees as a young man and reported that he would sleep in our front yard between irrigation jobs,” neighbor Ellen Allare said. “When the water hit his extended index finger, he knew the necessary water level was complete!”

Burruel continued his educational career, eventually earning a Ph.D. in education from ASU, in keeping with his motto. He was promoted to Assistant Dean of Students, and this is where he advocated for them.

“Whether it was civil rights, immigration or educational issues, José was always an advocate for the people,” Francis said. “If someone needed help, he would help them. He enjoyed life, and he never sought notoriety.”

In a career and life of service to others, Burruel would also become Director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for Arizona and worked tirelessly with others to restore the Old Adobe Mission in Old Town Scottsdale, which earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018. 

He also highlighted the contributions made by many other Hispanics in a book he wrote entitled Mexicans in Scottsdale.

“He was truly an icon in the Hispanic community,” Allare said. 

“He was a people person,” Francis continued. “He had a magnetic personality and a great sense of humor that drew people to him, which meant he was someone who never met a stranger.”