He was so gifted in so many ways. It really is such a loss," said Albany MayorKathy Sheehan. "But he would want us to carry on."
Burgess was coordinator of the Department of Environmental Conservation's Capital District Campership Diversity Program at the time of his death.
He previously worked at Green Tech High Charter School and the Albany Boys and Girls Club, and he founded a nonprofit group that helped former prison inmates re-enter society.
He also started Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network to help take inner-city children on trips into the wild.
In 2011, Burgess was honored as a Hidden Hero by the Andrew Goodman Foundation.
Burgess was one of seven siblings. He hid his love of nature as a child because it was "unmanly," said his wife of 45 years, Cherrie Burgess, a prekindergarten teacher at Arbor Hill Elementary School.
Burgess' family said he served a tour in Vietnam and then struggled with substance abuse.
He also spent time in state prison. A counselor eventually "prescribed" kayaking as therapy to help him readjust to civlian life and in recent years at least one boat was strapped to the top of Burgess' Ford Escape during kayaking season.
Burgess, who moved with his family to Albany in 1991, helped found Roots Inc. in 1997, based on his prison experience, said Vera Michelson, a Roots steering committee member.
He also was a board member emeritus of Children & Nature Network.
"This was a man with a past he had to overcome, and he contributed and gave so much to the community that he loved," Michelson said.
"He was constantly in demand because of his insights, his intellect, his humor, his love and his passion for what he did."
Sheehan, who knew Burgess for about six years, said she once heard a city teen say that going on one of Burgess' trips to the Adirondacks was like going to the moon. "It was that life-altering of an experience," Sheehan said. "You saw right there the impact that Brother Yusuf had."
Earlier this year, Burgess helped students at Arbor Hill Elementary School plant a garden, encouraging them to learn about math, irrigation and agriculture.
Cherrie Burgess said she drove countless children to DEC camps in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, hiking the Adirondack High Peaks with her husband, skiing, and once taking Albany kids to Yosemite National Park. All this while raising five sons.
"It was very tiring, but very rewarding," she said. "My husband was motivated just like the Energizer bunny and this partner, me, would be following right behind him."
Burgess wrote about his youth: "I often reflect back to my early childhood in Prospect Park, when my world was fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. I know now that there was an innate part of me that was drawn to nature.
"Yet many of today's children are growing up in busy cities without nearby parks or 'special places' to experience the beautiful and awe-inspiring. They stand to lose a very important part of what it is to be human."
- By Lauren Stanforth