Neil was born in Liverpool and raised in Solihull, England, where at a young age he began his love for animals and music. He grew up with his sable cat Nim, and spent a good part of his youth listening to rock and roll, fly fishing and riding his motorcycle. After high school Neil went to pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian and studied at the prestigious veterinary department of Bristol University. He came to the university already an accomplished flautist, perhaps influenced through his love of Jethro Tull and their front man Ian Anderson. Although Neil was always very dedicated and enthusiastic about his veterinary studies, he was frequently found playing music when he wasn’t studying. It was at this time that he decided to take up instruments more in-line with his love of rock and so he taught himself how to play the harmonica and saxophone. After graduating from Bristol University, Neil took time off to travel Europe, busking with his saxophone to pay for his travels.
Immersing himself into his career, Neil began his practice as veterinarian in Malmesbury, England, however soon his curiosity and sense of adventure took his eyes to seeking opportunities in more exotic locations. A position became available with Bob Steele in Bermuda at the Endsmeet Animal Hospital and Neil eagerly accepted the offer. After working there for his first few years in Bermuda and then for several more years as Government Vet, coincidentally Neil and his business partner Nick Glynn had the opportunity to acquire and manage Endsmeet Animal Hospital. Throughout his work as veterinarian, Neil completely dedicated himself in doing everything he could for his patients, and even when special cases arose he took the time to learn new procedures and brought in specialists from abroad to provide the best care possible.
Neil understood the importance of doing what you love in the pursuit for a happy life. Upon arriving in Bermuda, the first pastime he took up was windsurfing. His skills quickly advanced and he set the record of windsurfing fastest around the island in 2 hours and 11 minutes, which has yet to be broken in the 20 years since he set the record. Stemming from his interest of fly fishing from his youth, he also began fly fishing in Bermuda which he then went on to mastering deep sea fishing and spear fishing. One day, while out fishing with his friend Marco Zanuccoli, they found their boat surrounded by sharks. Neil was so curious about these mysterious creatures that he put on a mask and submerged his head in the water to take a closer look when he accidentally fell in to the water. It was perhaps in that moment that his great curiosity and love for sharks began. Along with his friends Tim Hasselbring and Jeff Manson, they designed and created a shark cage to more closely observe and photograph the sharks, although they hardly ended up using the cage and instead swam alongside them. It was not long after that Neil and Choy Aming founded the Bermuda Shark Project. They managed to capture and tag sharks with satellite tracking devices in the waters around Bermuda with the aim of monitoring their migratory paths in the Atlantic Ocean. Alongside their partnership with various scientists in university labs across America and the Caribbean, they were able to share data with them and send samples to be analysed in their labs.
The more Neil learnt about ocean life, the more he wanted to share his knowledge and love for the ocean and its creatures with others, and so the idea developed to create his own television show. Neil was contacted by Andrew Smith who had heard about Neil from his family that lives in Bermuda, and together along with his associate Dan Radford they created the show Ocean Vet. Even in it’s early stages of being presented to the public, Ocean Vet has created a sensation, sparking curiosity and inspiration within its audience members.
Neil played music throughout his life and his passion for it was contagious. He was an accomplished saxophonist and harmonicist. He brought his instruments with him wherever he went and often played for anyone he met. Neil remained very engaged within the music scene in Bermuda and frequently performed at ChewStick and at various local events and concerts. It wasn't unusual for Neil to just "appear" at stage left, never having rehearsed with whatever band that was on stage, and to simply join in the performance. In more recent years, he formed a blues band, BONES, alongside his friends Leroy Richardson, Graham Pewter, David Skinner, and Andrew Chamberlain. Not only was Neil multi-talented as he played several instruments, but he also composed and performed his own original music.
AN INSPIRATION AND A HERO
To many people in Bermuda and overseas Dr. Neil Burnie was an inspiration and a hero. He touched the heart of so many people, whether it was through his dedicated work as a veterinarian, his skilled musicianship, his many diverse interests in sports, or his overall love for the ocean and all the creatures that inhabit it. He was a family man and he dearly loved his soul mate and wife Katrin Burnie, and was a loving stepfather and incredible role model for his two children Oscar and Kim Deuss. Not only was it Neil’s work and interests that inspired others and left a lasting impression, but also his spirit, energy and way of life. The sudden and tragic loss left so many shocked but it has motivated those who knew him well to continue the work that he had done, which is how the foundation began. In his memory, the Dr. Neil Burnie Foundation aims to carry out the work that Neil had dedicated himself to. We aim to make a positive and lasting influence not only for Bermuda’s ocean environment but also for the people of Bermuda the way Neil had done throughout his life.