In the Tuesday edition of the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper, there was an obituary written by Ralph Burni’s grand daughter which began: “In loving Memory of my Grand Father, San Diego entrepreneur, Real Estate investor Ralph Burni. Ralph Burni was born in Amman, Jordan and lived there for the first 22 years of his life. It’s where he first dreamt of building his own business. In the later part of 1945, (following the end of World War II), he was persuaded by friends to take his dreams to the United States.
“Upon arrival in New York City, Burni had just $20 dollars to his name and scarce knowledge of English. Over the next few years, he worked at many low-paying jobs to sustain himself. From this humble beginning and a great sense of humor, ambition and keen business sensibilities, he set off on an array of business ventures. After settling in San Diego, CA., these opportunities all came to fruition with the creation of Burni Enterprises.
“There, he met and married librarian, Josephine Barrios and in 1959 they had a son, Dean Burni. Ralph took his son under his wing and together they built their business empire. At first Ralph and Dean Burni owned a chain of JetCo furniture stores and in 1990 they sold their last store in order to commit full time to commercial real estate and hospitality investments.
“In 1996, they purchased the historic Hotel Churchill in downtown San Diego and in 2007, shortly after the tragic death of his son Dean Burni, he closed escrow on the Four Points By Sheraton Hotel.
“Ralph Burni is survived by his three lovely grandchildren, Janan, Jasmin, and Abed Burni and a daughter-in-law/business partner, Luz Burni. Ralph was and still is loved dearly by family and friends from all over the world. Ralph Burni, along with his beloved son, Dean, have left a significant mark on many of their family and friends’ lives, and have left a tremendous legacy of hard work, perseverance and compassion. He will be remembered with great respect and admiration.”
Like others who started with nothing, pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, went from poverty to power, Ralph Burni was a persistent, hard worker who’s business savvy became legendary in San Diego. What made him so unique was his gentle manner, his attention to detail, the classy way he dressed and he’d always have a humorous tale for you.
Unlike the standup comedians, Mr. Burni never needed a segue for his jokes. Often the first few lines would have you chuckling: “I have one of the lamest superpowers ever…” One of his favorite jokes told of this loathed robber who was caught breaking into a supermarket and taking cans of food. When appearing before the judge for sentencing, the judge asked: “It says here you were caught stealing a can of peaches. How many peaches do you suppose were in that can?” The contentious robber fired back, “Why are you asking me? Six!”
Put off by his demeanor, the judge said, “In that case, I’m sentencing you to six months in the county jail.” At that point, the thief’s wife stood up and said, “But Judge, he also stole a can of peas.”
Luz Burni, Mr. Burni’s daughter-in-law, who for years has helped him run the business, was not in favor of Mr. Burni taking the long and arduous trip back to Jordan, his homeland: “Ralph Burni was the toughest man I ever met. A real fighter. At his age, 90, he was coping with multiple health issues; he had leukemia and from time to time problems with his heart. I would never have imagined him making such a trip. But he was stubborn and wanted to return to the place of his birth. He likely willed himself to make that trip for the final time. When he made his mind up to do something, he did it. When there, he became ill with pneumonia and since he was already dealing with the other problems, it was an accumulation of things that caused his death. But as I was telling my kids, their Grandpa led a long and rewarding life of which he and for that matter all of us can be proud. He was an amazing man. At the services, we don’t want anyone to be sad. We believe it should be as he would have wanted it to be, a celebration of his life.”
Information regarding the funeral services: on Thursday, January 8, 2015, there will be a service starting at 12:00 noon at the Greenwood Cemetery located at 4300 Imperial Avenue, San Diego, CA 92113. Following the services will be the burial. Then, at 3 p.m., there will be a reception back at the Four Points By Sheraton Hotel.