July 1, 2009
RIP, Dave Burke, A Legendary Hibernian
David R. Burke, the leading voice in the Lawrence Hibernian community for more than a half century, died on Wed., May 27, at Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, of cancer.
A highly decorated and respected member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Burke was widely known for his efforts to promote peace in the Motherland.
He leaves his wife of 41 years Patricia C. (Jurewicz) Burke and a son, Kevin P., of Lawrence.
To his best friends, Dave Burke was an absolute pain in the ass. He was always asking for something.
Can you pick up an Irish visitor at Logan Airport?
Can you draft a press release on an Irish speaker?
And Dave's all time favorite "can you send a check?"
What made Dave so special is that the favors were never, ever for him. Dave was always working for others and he was never looking for any type of recognition for himself. And his friends know that over the past forty years there has been no job, too large or too small, that Dave did not do himself. He would go from being the Master of Ceremonies at a lunch where he introduced the Governor to being the guy who folded the chairs and hauled away the trash. Dave just did it.
I first met Dave when I was a radio reporter in Lawrence. On my way to work every morning I would stop into the police department and review the log book for newsworthy arrests. One winter morning I did a story about an older woman I had found sleeping in a chair in the lobby of the police department. Her name was Helen, she was in her 70's and she had been burned out of her apartment. She had no family, nothing but the clothes on her back and she was living on the street.
Minutes after I read the story on the air there was a voice on the telephone telling me "she will have a roof over her head tonight." Who are you? I asked. "Dave Burke, Lawrence Housing Authority."
That same day I received a call to go to a housing complex to see how Helen was doing. When I arrived, the Red Cross was delivering a second hand bedroom set; the Salvation Army had already provided a small kitchen table and chairs and the Ladies from the Ancient Order of Hibernians were hanging drapes and helping Helen into new clothes.
I called Dave the next day and said I wanted to do a story about how he and the community had responded to help a woman down on her luck.
"What are you [expletive] stupid?" Dave yelled at me over the phone. Trying to hide my shock at his response, I asked him why no follow up story. He said "do you know how many federal and state housing laws I broke to take care of that woman. I'd go to prison."
Then why'd you do it? I asked. The reply was simple and typical Dave: "Because she needed the help." He didn't worry about the forms and the paperwork; Dave just did it.
I don't know how many people Dave helped over the years but there were many. He spent thirty-five years at the Lawrence Housing Authority, and for the past four decades he has been a leading organizer in all things Irish. Dave's fingerprints would be on many of the brochures for the different Irish heritage and history events that have taken place in Massachusetts over the past forty years.
Dave stood up for human rights and challenged a flawed judicial system that produced numerous miscarriages of justice in the North of Ireland when it was dangerous to do so. He educated many Irish-Americans as to what was happening in the North and he was one of the leading organizing forces that united the Irish in American into Irish-America. No one asked him to give up his nights and weekend to do it; Dave just did it.
Dave truly believed that through his daily efforts one man can make a difference for good in this world. Like everything else, Dave didn't talk about it; Dave just did it.