Frank Burns is a champion. Not the rough and ready
warrior he once begged to become when, as athlete
turned ROTC candidate, he abandoned the certain course
of becoming an Air Force officer to enlist in the
Marines during the Vietnam War.
His calling is of a quieter nature, one that for years
he rejected, determined to pursue courses that, to
him, seemed of loftier virtue. Today he acknowledges,
"You're lucky if you discover the gifts God gave you,
and you ought to be ashamed if you don't use them."
Today Frank is a certified public accountant in
Huntington, a member of the Carroll County Board of
Commissioners, chairman of the Carroll County
Republican party and king of small-town motel
enterprises in an arc stretching across seven states,
as well as being a loving husband, father, and
He grew up in Ashland, Kentucky, the youngest of three
children. "I'm the baby of the family and they always
make sure I know it; I got favored treatment," grins
Frank, who counts as his first good fortune the fact
that he had "two really loving parents."
His sister, Carolyn, is oldest with brother Fred
coming next before Frank.
As a youth he attended the parochial school of his
Catholic faith. "I certainly remember that I sure
cried when I saw that penguin - a nun in full habit -
greeting me for the first day of school," he says,
chuckling. The 12-grade schoolhouse garnered many
pleasant memories over the years before Frank
graduated in 1962 in a class of 19.
"It was a great experience," Frank says, crediting
smaller classes with a better likelihood for more
individual attention. While the low-budget school was
short on peripherals like drama and art, Frank says a
higher percentage went on to college.
"So there were advantages and disadvantages," he says,
"but kids are more easily discarded in larger
Active in community government and politics, his
thoughts turn to Carroll County education as he notes,
"We're fortunate here to have Carroll Academy; kids
don't want to leave there."
Carroll Academy is a state-sponsored alternative
school for high risk students who arrive at the
facility most often by court order.
"Lots of those kids are really good kids that, if
given half a chance, would be a success," continues
Frank, "If you're contributing to society, you're a
success in my opinion."
He was a star basketball player, a self-confessed "gym
rat" whose athletic prowess stood him in good stead in
His own success was on his mind as his high school
days were winding down, when he decided to journey to
the University of Detroit to pursue a degree in
chemical engineering. The decision was made largely on
a whim after reading a brochure on chemical
engineering while searching for his life's pathway.
Besides, another member of his class, who became his
roommate, also planned to attend the university.
"After a year of realizing chemical engineering was
not my forte," Frank says, "I ran into my high school
basketball coach who asked what I was going into.
"Not engineering and not in the cold north," he had
declared, recounting snow storms that rendered a
quarter inch of ice on the inside of his dormitory
windows. "It was a little too cold for a Southern boy
from northeast Kentucky," he laughs now.
"Why not try accounting?" his coach suggested.
"I took to it like a duck takes to water," Frank says,
smiling. "If you get in the right curriculum with the
gifts God gave you it's so much easier than anything
The false start in Detroit, however, meant lost time
as college credits were lost in the translation to a
new program of study at the University of Kentucky.
Fiercely patriotic and a member of the AFROTC (Air
Force Reserve Officer Training Corps), Frank was
dismayed when, during a job-shadowing venture to
Maxwell AFB in Alabama, he was under the tutelage of
an officer whose laissez faire attitude was
off-putting alongside Frank's dynamics.
"This is so easy," remarked the officer.
"I wasn't a 'sit behind a desk and take it easy' kind
of person," laughs Frank from behind his desk at Burns
and Wright CPA's, located on Main Street.
With war raging in Vietnam, Frank chose in August 1966
to forego a commission in the Air Force in order to
become an enlisted man in the Marine Corps. His
father, he said, didn't speak to him for three days.
"After about three days in Marine Corps boot camp,
being an Air Force officer looked pretty good," he
chuckles, recalling his platoon members' joint
decision to choose the "old way" of training that
meant physical abuse was not off limits. "Everybody is
entitled to do one foolish thing in their life."
His viewpoint, however, is likely skewed by the facts
of his enlistment; had he been assigned to combat as
was his desire - and had he emerged from that
experience alive - he would probably have a different
perception altogether. His psyche still scarred by the
thwarting of that desire, he was nevertheless fully a
"They instilled in you this tremendous confidence,
that if you can get through this then you can do
anything," he says. "I was very patriotic and wanted
to serve my country."
Training with a replacement company in California, he
describes night firing exercise in which every tenth
round was a tracer. "It looked like rain going
sideways," he said, awed. "So you know how dangerous
combat could be."
Despite bucking his chain of command to write the
president asking for orders to Vietnam, the closest he
came to Vietnam was the Wes Pac (Western Pacific)
where he was stationed at Camp Foster in Okinawa as a
computer operator in the days when computers were "big
monstrosities housed in specially cooled and filtered
room" and fed by punch cards.
At Kadena AFB, as Frank prepared to return stateside
when his tour of duty was over, he was surprised to
meet up with an old friend, Chris Fox a Navy corpsman
attached to a Marine battalion in Vietnam who was on
his way home as well. Frank was on the same plane as
Chris and 80 Navy corpsmen returning home.
"I remember how ashamed I was to be in the Marine
Corps with only one little National Defense medal,"
Frank says, choking on emotion 40 years old. "These 80
men had rows of ribbons from every campaign. I knew
what they'd went through, then to touch down in the
U.S. and hear the roars that went up... Once they
touched down they knew they were safe and home... I
feel I hadn't done my share. I know I'm lucky now. But
I spent two years in the Marines. I was very proud of
that, there are not very many Marines. I'll always
feel like I have a bond there."
In more recent years, Frank and his wife Pamela
vacationed in Washington D.C. where he visited the
Vietnam War Memorial. He knew one person among the
over 58,000 names on the wall: Wade Eden, an all-state
basketball player from Kentucky that Frank remembered
for the grace of his movements.
"I had to go up and run my hand over his name," he
After finishing his education, Frank took a job in
Cincinnati, Ohio with KPMB, one of the "Big 8" in
financial institutions that, Frank says, is now among
the "Big 5", the others having merged or folded.
He later worked with a local company back home in
Ashland and as vice president in Tom Wright's firm
(who later moved to Huntingdon after purchasing Publix
shirt and changing the company name to Thomas Bradford
Shirt Co.) and as a broker before buying his current
practice and moving to Huntingdon in January, 1984.
"I thought it would be nice to counsel people on how
to increase their net worth," he said, regarding the
brokerage. But, tired of the monotony of the job, he
turned to accounting, in which, he says, "there is a
nice variety of things to do" among which are tracking
clients' funds in search of ways to cut costs or save
money, preparing tax returns, and a myriad of special
"There's lots of variety and the day goes by very
quickly; busy people have fast days," he says, cocking
one eyebrow toward the clock and strumming the desk in
imitation of former dissatisfying days.
While seeking to purchase an established CPA firm,
Franks says, he wanted to look "anywhere but
Tennessee", the blue-orange rivalry between Kentucky
and Tennessee having spoiled his appetite for the
But, as fate would have it, in January 1984 he bought
the former practice of Will Logan and moved to
Tennessee. One of the first sites he beheld driving
into town was the old City Drug Company building
painted Vols orange.
"I live hard during football season," he jokes. After
managing the business from his home for five years, he
moved to the current office he now shares with partner
Jon Wright, a CPA from McKenzie and a graduate of the
University of Tennessee at Martin. Also among the crew
at the office is Gail Cavendar, a tax specialist who
also works with Frank in his motels enterprise.
"Jon and Gail are big Tennessee fans," he continues.
"They could live hard during basketball season. But I
found out Tennessee is just like Kentucky fans, they
just loved their team."
At some point during his labors, Frank stopped long
enough to take in a long draught of his own species of
roses. "I saw my brother getting rich and I was just
working like crazy," he says miming a scribbling demon
working to get ahead of the rat race.
But his brother's, enterprise, some 1400 high rise
apartments, weren't suited for Frank's rural
environment. And restaurants, he said, were too labor
intensive. "You have to live it," he says.
"How can I make an extra buck?" he wondered. "In
Huntingdon, what do they need, what can I do?"
During tax season, he began speaking to potential
investors, rounding up ten to join him in establishing
his first motel venture in Huntingdon in 1989.
McKenzie was number five, with both local motels now
upgraded to Best Westerns.
Frank won't say the number of inns he has developed,
except to venture it is "between 12 and 14."
"The number 13 is never used in the hotel industry,"
he explains, citing room numbers that jump from 112,
for instance, to 114 and elevators that may run to the
12th and 14th floor but never to 13.
Like many folks go fishing and hunting, Frank's
pastime was "moteling". After narrowing down a list of
sites to one or two of the best prospects, he would
leave "at crack of dawn" Saturday morning to check out
the possibilities, returning late Sunday.
"It's like potato chips, I can't stop," he says,
though his efforts have been slowed by the simple
facts of economics. The industry has become saturated,
he says, with little room for further growth and a
danger of overbuilding.
Burns established motels now reach eight hours away
several locations across seven southern states, all in
small towns, including Geneva, Alabama; McGehee,
Arkansas; Fairfield and Sparta, Illinois; Ashland,
Kentucky; Ville Platte, Louisiana; Brookfield,
Missouri; and Amory and Ripley, Mississippi, besides
those in Humboldt and Russellville, Kentucky which
have since been sold.
"I can knock on wood and say I haven't had a failure,"
says Frank, who says he "paid his dues" in Huntingdon
as he learned the motel business and that each new
venture gets "better and better" with amenities like
suites, fitness centers, meeting rooms, heated pools,
business centers and high speed Internet connections.
Frank's wife, Pamela, decorates the lobbies of the
motels. Her handiwork is evident in the elegant and
functional lobby of Huntingdon's Best Western.
Al Gore was a guest in the Huntingdon motel, while in
Amory guest Dolly Parton is rumored to have remarked,
"This is nicer than any in New York City!"
Frank says he first noticed Pamela at a church
function in Huntingdon, though they were already
acquainted, so that when he called to invite her out,
she thought he was calling on church or Chamber of
Commerce business. It took one night of dancing in
Jackson for both to realize there was something to the
match. They married on June 11 ten years ago, merging
families that include Pamela's son Randal and Franks
children Jim and Nathan. Nathan has added
grandchildren to the family with twins Franklin
"Brady" and James Lee, who is called "J".
Regarding his rise in the political arena, Frank says
he believes it is important for people with good
"common sense" to run for office and and in other ways
"give back" to society.
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the
world is for good people to do nothing," he says,
quoting philosopher Edmund Burke.
Having spent much of his professional life in a town
where Democrats outnumbered Republicans eight to one,
he realized "it wasn't advisable in business to be a
"But that was fine with me," continues Frank, who was
brought up in a Democratic household. By the time he
moved to Tennessee, however, he noticed that, on the
local level he voted for whoever he thought was the
best candidate, but on the national level he
consistently voted Republican.
"I finally came out of the closet as a Republican
about ten years ago," he says, citing that Democrats
had become very liberal and that their economic
philosophy was "tax and spend."
Conversely, he saw past the conundrum of Republican
effort to assist business to the people employed in
those efforts. Aiding business, says Frank, gives
incentive to people to create jobs; more jobs equal
more wealth which equals more jobs and more pieces of
that wealth for more people.
"Politically it's not popular," he says, "It's
unpopular to help corporations and it's popular to
help people, but we're all worker bees. It's important
to find a way that the most people can share the most
Having been a victim of both heart disease and
detached retinas in both eyes over the last several
years, Frank has a great appreciation for the advances
of modern science.
"Otherwise I would've dropped dead of a heart attack,"
After a bout of stubbornness in the face of needed
surgery that translated to calm awareness of his
mortality that earned him the occasional nickname of
"Ice" on the eve of surgery during which physicians
performed five bypasses on arteries, of which two were
completely blocked, Frank lay watching a
Kentucky-Tennessee football game.
"Kentucky was ahead with a minute or two to go, we
hadn't beat Tennessee in 20 years and I thought, 'If
we beat them today it's a good day to die.'"
He laughs in appreciation of life. "Tennessee came
back and beat us. I was too ornery to die. If you
believe in the after-life, why fear death anyway, you
might fear judgment! But life is over in the blink of
an eye, just let me enjoy my family.
"The last time we beat Tennessee was in 1984 in
Neyland Stadium; I'm going to try to hang in 'til we
beat them again."