By Ally Morrison
When he was just 15 years old, Lew Burdette was kidnapped.
He was held at gunpoint in the alley behind his father’s Roanoke grocery store and then taken into the woods, where he would end up shot, stabbed and left for dead in an old 30-foot water well.
Burdette said he battled for his life at the bottom of that well, later was given only a 5% to 10% chance of living and survived only by the grace of God.
Burdette now is president of King’s Home and is running for governor in the Republican primary.
Burdette has lived in Vestavia Hills for 23 years with his wife, Suzie. The couple has three children, Ash, Sarah Gabel and Grant.
When asked why he chose to live in the Over the Mountain area, Burdette emphasized his love for the family environment and the Vestavia Hills school system, from which his children graduated.
After attending the University of Alabama and obtaining a degree in finance, Burdette worked in Washington, D.C., on a political campaign before accepting a position with First Methodist Church in Florence, where he was director of Christian education.
After a few years serving with the church, Burdette found himself working for Bookland, which is now Books-A-Million.
“I went to college with two sons of the Anderson family, who owned Bookland at the time, and was asked to come work with them as they grew the company,” Burdette said. “The timing was perfect, so I went to work with them in 1985. I grew the company from 26 stores to 175 stores that spanned over 16 states.”
Burdette explained he held a variety of titles in the company before ultimately becoming executive vice president and chief operating officer. Such vast growth in a short amount of time presents its challenges, he said.
“When my wife introduces me as we campaign around the state, she still talks about my time at Books-A-Million,” Burdette said. “It was an extremely challenging time because we were growing so rapidly. Going from 250 employees to over 3,000 was a lot to manage but a lot of fun. I definitely had to learn to keep a balance and keep my priorities where they should be.”
After 13 years with Books-A-Million, Burdette chose to open his own store, called Kindred Bookstores, a Christian book superstore.
“We opened our first store in Center Point, and it was a phenomenal success,” Burdette said. “So, we opened our second store in 2001, right after 9/11. It was a tough economic environment during that time, and we ended up losing both stores.”
During the liquidation of the two stores, Burdette said God opened the doors to a new opportunity to serve with King’s Home, a nonprofit organization providing services to abused women, children and families.
“The attorney who was helping us with liquidation called me and told me about an opening at King’s Home and said he just felt led to share it with me,” Burdette said. “It stirred my heart, and I knew that was where my next journey was going to be. It’s been my pleasure to serve abused youth and women these last 19 years, and to give them an opportunity to start over in life.”
Burdette emphasized the significant influence of the organization and its mission.
“What’s most important at King’s Home is seeing God transform lives and seeing youth and moms truly find hope and get to start over in life,” Burdette said. “That’s the most important part.”
“I felt led to do something.”
Burdette said the idea to run for governor came to him during the summer of 2020.
“In the summer of 2020 I felt led to do something,” Burdette said. “I just remember repeating in my head, ‘Lew in 22’, but at the time I didn’t know what that meant. The first thing we did was start praying together as a family, and that’s what really began the journey. In the next few months, I started talking with individuals about responsibilities and what it may look like to run, and we made the final decision last summer to run for sure.”
Burdette explained his first campaign has been difficult.
“It’s definitely a new experience for me, but I approach it very methodically, just like I do my business career,” Burdette said. “It’s been a great process, but it’s definitely been a learning curve because it’s a new arena for me.”
When asked why he chose to run for governor, Burdette replied by saying it’s all about the people.
“My entire life we’ve been at the bottom of education, health care and crimes and prisons,” Burdette said. “We have a great state with great people. There’s no reason for us to be at the bottom. When people ask me why I’m running for governor, it’s because I so dearly love this state. I truly believe it’s got to be a political outsider like me with common sense business experience.”