Mary Frances Burleson dies at 87

Long-time CEO of Ebby Halliday Companies sold firm to a Warren Buffett outfit

Obit, Dallas, Brokerages
Ebby Halliday Companies' Mary Frances Burleson (Ebby Halliday Companies)

Mary Frances Burleson, the long-time CEO of Ebby Halliday Companies, died of natural causes on Sunday morning at 87, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Burleson began her career making $2.50 an hour as a part-time secretary for Ebby Halliday in 1958. It was the beginning of a 60-year partnership and friendship with the famed First Lady of Texas real estate.

She was to the “yin to Ebby’s yang,” according to Dallas Morning News, an went on to become an executive who was “the cog in Ebby’s wheel,” with a reputation for “never looking to be the center of attention but [was] always a very sure and quiet strength.”

Early in Burleson’s career, Ebby gifted a black version of her iconic white hat–a gift that came with the proviso that black would never replace white. It became Burleson’s signature hat.

“Mary Frances did so proudly,” said Cody Baker, director of advertising and Ebby Halliday brand manager, who worked closely with Burleson for nearly two decades. “She even put that black hat in a glass case in her office as a reminder, and it was a deal and partnership that would change the face of real estate.”

Burleson rose to executive vice president in 1979 and president in 1989. She went on to hold the title of CEO between 2000 and 2020. Her career brought a slew of awards and accolades— Realtor of the Year by the Texas Association of Realtors and induction into the Realtors Political Action Committee Hall of Fame, to name a few. Her famous mantras included, “Find a good mentor, but don’t forget to return the favor,” and “Get up, suit up and show up.”

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During her tenure, she grew the Halliday firm to 1,700 agents in 35 offices across three brands, making it the largest independent residential real estate brokerage in Texas and the 10th largest in the nation. She’s remembered by former employees for personally calling each one on their birthday to personally sing them “Happy Birthday.” She reportedly continued the tradition with all 2,000-plus members of the company until her retirement in 2020.

“I’m an Ebby girl. I want what’s best for this company,” the then 83-year-old Burleson said in an interview in 2018, when she announced the sale of Ebby Halliday Companies to HomeServices of America, Warren Buffett’s Minnesota-based real estate arm.

The exact amount Buffett’s firm paid for the employee-owned real estate company has never been disclosed, but a knowledgeable industry source at the time placed the all-cash deal at between $70 million and $100 million.

When asked to describe a moment in her life that shaped her future, she said meeting Ebby Halliday in 1958, but also marrying Rufus C. Burleson in 1955. The two were married for over 50 years until his death in 2009. The two even created their own show dog pedigree, the Marburl boxers— a combination of the names Mary and Burleson.

“She was a tough, no-nonsense businesswoman who could scare grown men with just a look,” Baker said. “She was stubborn as a mule, loved a good argument, was extremely opinionated and just plain ornery when she wanted to be. But more than all that, she was one of the biggest-hearted, most thoughtful — not to mention smartest — people I ever met.”

Baker told the Dallas Morning News that Burleson didn’t want a fuss made when she died. Instead she asked that people enjoy an expensive glass of red wine — emphasis on expensive — while they remembered the good times they had with her.

Maddy Sperling