Keep Calm, but Don’t Carry On


The wryly informative captions Mr. Burns appended to his posts — along with the hashtags that, as Jimmy Kimmel once noted, Mr. Burns deployed more liberally than a teenage girl — helped put a face to an abstract arm of federal government, a division of the Department of Homeland Security formed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Bob had this firsthand knowledge of dealing with the good, the bad and the obnoxious aspects of the world coming through the checkpoints,” said Mr. Bilello, the T.S.A. spokesman. “He used dad humor to put the mission across.”

In April 2018, the T.S.A. won its first Webby award, for internet excellence in the categories of Corporate Communications in Social, the aptly titled Weird in Social, as well as a category called People’s Voice for Weird. Lofting and giving a good shake to an award that looked remarkably like a truck spring, Mr. Burns pronounced his Webby “carry-on approved.”

And then in October, at the age of 48, Mr. Burns died unexpectedly of a bacterial infection. He left behind a wife, two daughters and a government agency with no clear blueprint for replicating the jaunty social media presence Mr. Burns devised.

The agency has not yet posted the listing, but it will appear soon on USAJobs, the official federal government employment website. “It’s a very hard government job to post for,” said James O. Gregory, a public affairs officer at the T.S.A. “The task is to educate passengers and stop bad people. But you’ve got to do it in such a way that it’s interesting.” Humor has proved the best format for that.

And Mr. Burns had that to spare, no matter the offending object. In a video of his annual list of the top ten most bizarre things people tried to carry onto planes in 2017, he characterized one jagged gizmo found at Honolulu’s international airport as “Satan’s pizza cutter.” (Another, a “grenade art thing” snagged by an X-ray machine in Milwaukee, was so strange, Mr. Burns was left to shake his head in disbelief.)



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