Ian Burns was a tenor.
Whether it was church hymns, the soundtrack to his favorite Disney movies or even Kanye West, Ian was always singing from the bottom of his heart, said his mother, Monique Burns.
“You always knew when Ian was in a room, you always knew when he was singing,” she said. “He could hit the highest C note. So many people loved to hear him.”
His voice was hardly the only thing that shined, she said. It was his smile. It was hosting all-night video game sessions with up to 15 friends from completely different cliques Friday nights in their Palm Beach Gardens home.
It was dressing up in full Snow White garb — blue blouse, yellow gown, tiara and all — during his senior year Homecoming Day at Suncoast Community High School as part of the Disney-themed event.
“Ian was a performer,” she said. “He knew he was, he was always joking. Some of the girls were like, ‘Wow, you look better in that dress than we do.’”
But now, his mother, his twin sisters, Caitlin and Devin, 23, and all those he touched can only turn to memories to hear his voice and see his smile once again. The 20-year-old UF mechanical engineering and music sophomore died Oct. 21 after falling from the third floor of 13th Street Apartments, otherwise known as University House apartments, located at 725 NW 13th St. Gainesville Police is still investigating what caused Ian’s death but ruled out foul play.
UF will host a memorial service Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baughman Center, located at 982 Museum Road.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church & School at Palm Beach Gardens, where Ian started singing in the youth choir in first grade, held a viewing Friday afternoon and a livestreamed funeral service Saturday at noon.
Above all else, Monique Burns said she wants her son to be known for his spirit.
“He always had a smile and camaraderie and empathy, he had no meanness,” she said. “He had love to share, and I hope that’s what people remember: Always be true to yourself.”
Waverley Lim couldn’t bear the pain after checking Facebook on Oct. 28.
After two years of choir and theater at Suncoast Community High School with Ian, all she felt while reading about her old friend and role model’s death was gaping emptiness and a lump building up in her throat, the 18-year-old high school senior said.
“I couldn’t even wrap my mind around it,” she said.
Lim remembers his effortless sense of humor.
He auditioned for their Fall 2015 theater show, “A Grand Night for Singing,” dressed in a German lederhosen outfit, which he put together with leather breeches and suspenders, and sang his audition song, “Do Re Mi,” replacing each syllable with a reference to beer.
At their end-of-the-year show, James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” he owned the stage as the lead character. Lim, the head choreographer, taught Ian the dance. Dancing wasn’t his strength at first, but he worked at it again and again, never giving up, she said.
She thinks back to his solo at the climax of the show’s second act, “No More.” Listening to old recordings of their shows, reminiscing in the fun they had, is what’s gotten her through the past week.
“Every time I get in the car, if I’m going to an audition or going to class, I’m listening to all the songs he sang from senior year,” she said. “It’s on repeat now, that’s what’s making me have a lot more light in my days, just thinking about the positive and the wonderful memories and just how much talent he had.”
Abhinav Komaravelli, a UF computer science sophomore, took Advanced Placement classes with Ian, who he said was one of the smartest students at Suncoast Community High School.
“He was one of those people who didn’t have to much put work into his classes,” the 18-year-old said.
In British literature class, Ian explained “Beowulf” to Komaravelli. He said he wasn’t the only classmate Ian took time to tutor. One of his best qualities was his helpfulness, Komaravelli said.
“I always think about the times he helped me, especially now that he’s gone,” he said. “He was probably one of the nicest people I know.”
As the St. Mark’s choir led the church in “Amazing Grace” and emotional hymns, more than 100 gathered and filled the chapel room to honor Ian in Palm Beach Gardens on Saturday.
Phil Marshall, a close friend of the Burns family, told stories and memories given to him by family members and friends of Ian.
Rev. Jim Cook, the chief pastor of the church, watched Ian grow up in the 11 years he’s led St. Marks, he said in his sermon.
“We shouldn’t have to talk about Ian when only a week ago we were talking with Ian,” Cook told the crowd, his voice shaking. “Yes, we miss Ian, he is receding this day from our side — but he is not diminished in death, his life has changed, not ended.”
Monique Burns remembers the last conversation she had with her son.
It was shortly after his birthday, Oct. 5. He had just bought a bike to ease his commute to and from campus, and she asked how it was working out. They ended that quick phone chat the same way the Burns family ends any and every conversation they have.
“I love you.”
Those were their last words.
While Monique and the rest of the Burns’ family and community grieve, she stresses looking up. At the St. Marks service Saturday, she approached a group of Ian’s friends from high school and UF and told them to focus on what he did that made them laugh.
“Remember the positive things,” she said. “Whenever you see Snow White, if you take your future kids to Disney, you’ll think of Ian.”
The way he worked nonstop to be better, never resting on his laurels– that’s what Lim said she’s focusing on for her own dreams in theater and acting.
“He radiated wherever he went,” Lim said. “I’m so glad that I was able to listen to him sing while I could; it was hardly enough time.”