He gave up $90,000 to lift co-workers' wages

University president slashes his own pay to help others

By Lauren Lee-Johnson, CNN
Updated 6:31 AM ET, Wed January 28, 2015

KSU president is the gift that keeps giving 02:22

Story highlights

  • Raymond Burse volunteers to take a $90K pay cut to give livable wage to 24 workers
  • Move by Burse, president of Kentucky State University, gave them a 40% raise
  • Burse also has given a shooting victim a scholarship, a football player $2,000 to study abroad

(CNN)The story of his selfless act went viral, but for Raymond Burse it was simply second nature.

"I'm not extraordinary," said Burse. "I've assumed that people do those kinds of things all the time."

In summer 2014, Burse, who is president of Kentucky State University, gave up $90,000 of his almost $350,000 salary so that 24 of the university's lowest paid workers could earn $10.25 an hour.

The move gave them a 40% pay increase.

"I don't mind giving up some of what I have been able to obtain through life in order to be a small help to them in their own lives," Burse said.

Burse's help didn't end there.

The 63 year-old later surprised KSU football player Deshon Floyd with the remaining $2,000 he needed to do an internship abroad. In December, Burse offered high school shooting victim Javaugntay Burroughs a full scholarship.

"With all the things they had to deal with, one of the things they shouldn't have to deal with is whether this young man was going to be able to go to college," said Burse.

Burse's actions spurred a pay-it-forward movement around the university, with an increase in small acts of kindness and donations to the school. "I was amazed at how many people got involved," said Burse.

"It really mushroomed, so it has not stopped. We are still talking about paying it forward."

Growing a giving spirit

It is not often you meet a person who is ingrained with a giving spirit. Burse said he has his mother and father to thank for grooming him to be both a giver and an achiever.

Raymond Burse grew up in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, with 12 brothers and sisters.

"My mother was very active in the community. We didn't have much, but she would always share a part of what we had," Burse said.

A country boy at heart, Burse grew up as the youngest of 13 children in Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

"There wasn't a lot of money to go around," said Burse. "Going through that process I learned a lot about sacrificing, waiting your turn and being thankful for what you have."

Although his father attended school only through the third grade and his mother the seventh, Burse was a Rhodes Scholar, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a university president by age 30.

KSU President Raymond Burse during his college years.

"What they believed was if their children got an education, the education would serve them well for their entire lives," said Burse.

That education did indeed serve Burse well. After serving as Kentucky State University's president for eight years in the '80s, he went on to have a highly successful career with General Electric as vice president and general counsel of GE Consumer & Industrial.

After working at GE, Burse didn't have plans to come out of retirement.

"We would say that for every year you work at GE it is like working eight years somewhere else, just in terms of what GE required and demanded of you," said Burse.

Burse remembers going into his retirement "happy, content and enjoying" himself.

But when KSU President Mary Evans Sias announced her retirement in May 2014, Burse immediately got a call about filling her seat. At first, he said he wasn't interested.

"I did that for three to four weeks and finally I went to lunch with a couple of my friends, a couple of them Kentucky State graduates," said Burse.

"They played the guilt card on me."

Burse discussed it with his wife for a few weeks, and then decided he could come back for at least a year to help the university stabilize.

Burse came in expecting to be at KSU for a year, but he's now signed on to be there another three-plus years.

"I think we are all placed on this Earth to do something, to do something good," Burse said.

"I consider Raymond Burse to be an ordinary individual who works hard, who believes in people and in the power of people. If you give and work with people, good things will happen," he said.