Mark E. Burget, a faithful servant leader and a retired partner with McAfee & Taft whose life was lived with passion and purpose, passed away on Saturday, December 31, 2022, at the age of 68. At the time of his death, he served as an area director for Search Ministries, a ministry whose mission it is to — in Mark’s own words — “help people take their next step towards God.”
“Wherever he was, whatever he did, everybody and everything was better for it,” said Richard Nix. “And that was really his impact, one of his gifts. He made you better. He made you want to try and do things that you didn’t even think you were capable of doing. When you watched him — by his example, by the way he held himself, the way he spoke, the way he encouraged people — he just made people better. I watched him do that for the entire time he was here. I watched him flourish at Search in doing that. And what I discovered was he truly did make everyone around him better, and I can’t think of a better gift or a better compliment to anyone.”
Even though Mark will best be remembered for his faith and for the depth and authenticity of his personal relationships and not for his professional accomplishments, we would be remiss if we did not mention that Mark was an accomplished tax attorney and beloved partner who left a lasting impact on the firm. He joined the firm fresh out of OU Law in 1979 and later went on to earn his master of laws degree from New York University in 1982. In 1998, at the age of 44, Mark was elected to serve as McAfee & Taft’s first-ever managing director.
According to Richard Nix, Mark’s vision, creativity and leadership skills made him the clear choice in everyone’s minds to lead the firm at that critical time — that is, everyone except for Mark, who was humbled and taken aback by the request. After taking some time to talk with his wife and pray about it, he accepted the opportunity to serve.
“As our first managing partner, Mark was the driving force in keeping the firm stable and moving forward in a positive direction,” said Michael Lauderdale, the firm’s current managing director. “Without Mark’s leadership, we would not be the firm we are today. Mark’s legacy at McAfee & Taft will never be forgotten. Most important, Mark touched so many of our lives and others outside the firm through Search Ministries and his weekly Bible studies and prayer meetings. Many of us owe Mark a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid, and what he gave us was a gift that will live forever.”
After completing his first three-year term as managing director — and while at the peak of his legal career — Mark stepped down as a partner at the firm in order to follow his calling to join Search Ministries. In a 2007 “Leadership in Law” profile published in The Journal Record, he was quoted as saying that he made the move because he wanted to spend the remainder of his vocational years “helping people answer what I consider to be the most important questions in this life.”
For the remainder of his life, Mark maintained strong ties with McAfee & Taft and its people, remaining of counsel with the firm and providing advice and mentorship to anyone who needed it, attending firm events, and hosting weekly Bible studies, prayer groups, and small group discussions. It was in this capacity — as a friend, mentor, prayer partner, and spiritual discussion leader — that many today remember him most.
According to Ross Plourde, several such small group discussions focused on living life “in the dash.” “You’ve got the date that you’re born, the day that you died, and the dash in between,” he said. “And it’s not the length of the dash that counts; it’s the way you lived it. And Mark really lived it in a very kind and caring way that reflected well and was really, really inspirational.”
Another frequent topic of discussion was that of legacy: what you live for and what you leave behind.
“Mark would want to be remembered as a friend and as somebody who loved God and who wanted to share that with other people,” said Tony Rahhal. “That was his primary focus in life — with his family, with his friends, and with everyone around him. As good a lawyer as he was, as good a person he was, that was his focus. And I think that was how he would want to be remembered. And I think he did it well.”
“I think Mark would just like to be remembered as someone who did his best to serve God and to spread the message,” said Plourde. “They say that the best preaching is done by the way you live rather that what you have to say, and I think that’s probably how he’d like to be remembered. He was just a paragon of Christian evangelism and discipleship.”
“Mark’s belief in the promise of the Gospel and salvation through Jesus Christ was clearly apparent in his demeanor and influenced every decision he made,” said Scott McCreary. “Mark devoted his life to sharing his faith with others, but for many of us it was how he shared that was different. He shared his faith intentionally, by first establishing a real, personal relationship. He wanted to earn your trust and respect. And then when asked or needed, Mark was always ready to explain his carefully considered and well-reasoned basis for his faith.”
Mark is survived by his wife Elaine, his five sons and their families, and countless family members, friends and colleagues whom he impacted through his kindness and constant encouragement to live life “in the dash.”
“One of the most meaningful lessons that Mark taught me over the years and the one that I hold most dear is that he encouraged that life should be a team sport — that life is better, it’s more fulfilling, and it’s more rewarding and enjoyable if it’s a team sport and not done individually,” said Nix. “And I feel blessed, and I know our firm has been blessed to know that Mark was always on our team.”
Additional tributes to Mark E. Burget
I first met Mark Burget in April of 2000. Mark was the managing director of McAfee & Taft, and I needed Mark’s sign-off to join the firm as a lateral attorney. Frank Polk sent me up to Mark’s office with one warning: Mark may not say much, but that won’t necessarily mean he doesn’t like you. Frank was right. Mark did not say much during that interview, yet it was the start of a 22-year friendship!
What I learned over the next 22 years was that Mark was okay with the occasional, awkward silence, and he did not feel the need to impress others or exaggerate with meaningless words. I also learned that when Mark had something to say, it was always carefully considered and well-reasoned. This applied to just about any topic, whether it was tax law, firm management, football, politics or, most importantly, his Christian faith.
One topic Mark was more than happy to discuss was his love for his wife Elaine as well as their five sons and extended families. Mark was an incredibly devoted husband and father. It was remarkable, and I witnessed it almost weekly.
For us to truly talk about Mark, we have to also discuss his Christian faith, and that is what Mark wanted. Mark’s belief in the promise of the Gospel and salvation through Jesus Christ was clearly apparent in his demeanor, and it influenced every decision he made. Mark devoted his life to sharing his faith with others, but for many of us it was how he shared that was different. Mark shared his faith intentionally by first establishing a real, personal relationship. He wanted to earn your trust and respect, and then when asked or needed, Mark was always ready to explain his carefully considered and well-reasoned basis for his faith.
Mark was devoted to his faith, family and friends. For me personally, he was my boss, advisor, mentor, teacher and friend. It’s hard to express in words the profound impact Mark made in my life. It has certainly been significant.
• • • • •
I first met Mark when I clerked here back in 1984, and then when I first joined the firm in May of 1985, I was fortunate enough to have my office right next to him. We both officed there for 10 years, and that’s really where our friendship and our bond was created. Mark was my go-to, whether as a young associate, a new shareholder, or even as the managing director. Mark had been there. He had done that.
The thing that I will remember most about Mark was that it seemed like he never had a bad day. It was amazing. I officed next to him for so many years. He was the true north. He was the standard. You walked in there, and no matter how bad he might be feeling, no matter what worries he had, he always had a smile for you. He was always asking about you, and even when you were asking him for advice and input, insight, direction, etc., his focus would go back to you. Very seldom did he tell you what to do. He encouraged you to do things in a way that would flourish, that would allow you to do and handle a certain situation – it was just the way he presented himself and the comfort you felt around him. If I could take anything from him, that would be a gift that I wish I had more of.
Over the 35 years I’ve been with the firm, there have been so many wonderful people, so many wonderful leaders. But what has made our firm special is the family atmosphere that our firm has always had. It started with Mr. McAfee and Mr. Taft. You had Gary Fuller and John Mee and Ted Elam, and the next generation was Mark Burget. Mark was more of a quiet leader than those men, but his impact on our firm, and through the individuals within our firm, cannot be measured. And it was not just the lawyers. Everyone felt the same way. And we’ve owed him a great deal. I’m so pleased that we had our 70th anniversary this year so that we could show him how much we appreciate him and, even more importantly, how much we love him. And he and I have had conversations since that time, and he was overwhelmed and appreciative, and the timing of that now, in hindsight given the loss of Mark, couldn’t have been better. So I’m so pleased that our firm could share that. And it’s a good memory for each of us and a reminder that we need to be better at thanking not only our friends and family, but also our colleagues that have meant so much to us over the years.
Mark had so many wonderful attributes: his ability to always seem to be positive, his ability to always provide a kind word, especially when you needed it. But all of those attributes, all of the gifts that he had really centered around his faith, and he was always bold about sharing it, but he always knew how to present it in a way that that was not overly intrusive. And you felt like he really cared about you individually, and he did. As I watched him grow, both in his faith but also in his role with Search, I saw that faith grow in a way that allowed him to impact so many lives.
I always considered it an honor and a privilege to call Mark one of my good friends, but I know that there are a lot of other people around that feel like they, too, were Mark’s best friend. That was just the way he was. So much of that was centered around his faith, his belief in Jesus Christ, and that he always knew where he was going. He knew that he was here for a purpose and that he always wanted to live a life worthy of the calling that he was here for. He knew who he worked for, and to that end he provided sunshine wherever he went. And I have no doubt, I know that heaven is perfect, but it got just a little bit more perfect a couple of days ago.
• • • • •
Mark was managing director here after I joined the firm, but I really got to know Mark a lot better through the Bible studies and discussion groups that that he led over the last 20 years. I think I’ve participated for 15 years or so. As I look back over the last 20 years at some of the changes that I’ve made in the way I think, I can trace a lot of those back to things to what that Mark said during some of those Bible study discussion group sessions.
He was just a paragon of Christian evangelism and discipleship. And I know, like me, there are many, many people who are going to miss having him, and he really leaves a hole in the community.
• • • • •
I have known Mark Burget for something in excess of 25 years. For the majority of that time he was part of Search Ministries, but for the first few years that I worked here, Mark was the managing partner. I came to know him then because he had started a prayer group on Wednesday mornings here at the firm, which I was fortunate enough to be a part of for the last 25 years, and fortunate enough to be a part of the many study groups that he led, also with the firm. Mark was a wonderful friend. We would kiddingly – sometimes if we had questions – refer to him as our fearless leader. But that was very true. He really was a leader of a lot of men, and I considered him to be one of my best friends. I was fortunate to call him a friend that, if you had a question, if you needed a prayer, if you wanted to just talk because something was troubling you, he was – for a lot of people and for me – the first person I would call.
I’ll miss him, and a lot of people will. He’s going to leave a big void. He was a wonderful man, a great friend. And we’re all going to miss him. We’re going to miss him at the firm, we’re going to miss him in the groups and the prayer time that we had together, and we’re going to miss him just being a friend. I can’t say enough things about Mark to even really capture what kind of guy he was.