Dustin (“Dusty”) M. Burke, age 88, the second oldest son of the late James and Flora (Hunt) Burke, and husband to the late Shirley Burke, died Tuesday night, February 16, 2016, at the Newton-Wellesley Center for Alzheimer’s, surrounded by his loving family. Dusty made his home in Sherborn, MA, for over fifty years.
Born November 9, 1927 in Orange, MA, Dusty grew up in Athol, MA, during the Great Depression, developing at an early age an extraordinary work ethic, passion for sports and trademark self-motivation in helping others. On freezing Athol winter nights, after splitting wood and completing his studies, Dusty would walk two miles to the outdoor rink to help his hockey coach clean the ice rink, hook up the hose, and make new ice – one thin, slow, freezing layer at a time. In the spring, Dusty would ride his bike miles to the golf course on Pleasant Street to earn money caddying. So skilled was Dusty at finding errant golf balls, his favorite golfer rewarded him with his own first set of clubs when he was 12. By 15, Dusty was Club Champion.
Dusty graduated from Athol High School in 1945 where he was President of his class and the Mount Hermon School in 1946. He served in the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division from 1946 to 1948 in postwar Japan, where he played quarterback for the Divisional Football Team and started and wrote for the regiment newspaper.
In 1948, Dusty attended Harvard College where he majored in English and played multiple sports. As a sophomore, Dusty scored the winning touchdown to beat Army and earned All American honors in hockey. Dusty captained the hockey team as a senior, wrote and delivered the class poem at graduation (1952) and was given the Burr Award (which he shared with Olympic ice skating gold medalist Dick Button) as outstanding student athlete.
In 1952, Dusty attended Harvard Business School. Late that fall, Dusty was re-introduced to a beautiful former Athol High School classmate, Shirley Brackett. Dusty recalled that once, during his senior year at Athol High, he had bailed the mischievous Shirley out of big trouble with the principal by applying his considerable – but seldom used influence – and then, regrettably, letting her escape at graduation without her knowing what he had done to help her. In meeting her again, finally, 7 years later, Dusty did not let Shirley escape so easily. This time he wooed her, fell in love, and married her in 1954. They raised 5 children and were married for 53 years, when Shirley died in 2008.
After graduating from Harvard Business School and a two-year stint with Thompson Products in Cleveland, Dusty was recruited by Harvard in 1956 to direct the Student Employment Office and serve on the Board of Admissions. While serving both capacities, Dusty and others founded the non-profit Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) in 1957, which was to become the largest student-run company in the world, where Dusty was appointed its first General Manager. At HSA, Dusty advised Harvard student managers on how to start, plan and operate businesses, including a publishing venture that would become the world renowned “Let’s Go” travel guide. His many students have gone on to success as entrepreneurs and leaders in such fields as publishing, real estate development, retail, commercial photography, banking, public land preservation, marketing, manufacturing, agriculture and education. In 1965, Dusty was invited to assist the Johnson Administration in planning and promoting Federal equal rights educational policy for high school and college students.
In 1970, Dusty left Harvard to start the land company, Newport Farms in Newport, Maine, which he would continue to oversee for many years.
In 1975, Dusty joined the Cleaver Company in Boston as a management consultant specializing in helping CEO’s strengthen their organizations by teaching managers leadership skills such as understanding human behavior in the development of people. Dusty spent his next 35 years in this role, first as Vice President of the Cleaver Company and then as President of the Burke Cleaver Enterprises.
In addition to his lifelong commitment to helping others achieve happiness and success in their careers, Dusty served as Chairman of the Sherborn School Committee, won the Golf Championship at the Dedham Country & Polo Club, and was elected to the Athol High School Hall of Fame. As he aged, his childhood love of gardening and woodsmanship became a full time devotion. Dusty loved to experiment with different types of fertilizer and seeds, sharing this enthusiasm with his children.
In 1996, Harvard named the new HSA headquarters at 67 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge Burke-McCoy Hall in honor of Dusty, as founder, and former HSA manager Bob McCoy and Hester Bell McCoy, his wife.
Dusty was an exceptional swimmer, diver and instructor, working summers in high school and college as a counselor at Camp Wiyaka in Richmond, NH, and Camp Medomak in Washington, ME. Later, Dusty would amaze his children with feats of underwater swimming holding his breath, and once received a commendation from the Her Majesty the Queen of England for saving a man from drowning in Bermuda.
As a grandfather, Dusty was dedicated to his 15 grandchildren, spending every spare moment to go watch their hockey and soccer games, enjoy their dance recitals and plays, teach them sports, show them how to drive his tractor and look after Abby, the family dog. His grandchildren eagerly sought his wisdom, advice and coaching, academically and in planning their careers and life goals. The birth of his great grandchildren was a pride and highlight of his last year and a half of life. Alaina and Lucas delighted in visiting their great grandfather and receiving the light of his smile.
Dusty leaves behind his sisters Joanne (Norman) Berkowitz of Dedham, MA, and Susan (Gerald) Rosenthal of Bradford, VT, and his brother Robert (Dorothy) Burke of Easthampton, MA; his five children and their spouses, Dustin M. Burke, Jr. (Belinda), Karen E. Burke, Kelly H. DuMar (Frank), Joanna Sherblom (Paul) and Robert J. Burke (Pamela); and by his 15 grandchildren, Dustin M. Burke III, Robert “Huck” Burke, Samuel Burke and Margaret Burke; Anthony Dykstra and Marvin Dykstra; Landon DuMar, Perrin DuMar and Frances DuMar; Benjamin Sherblom (Michelle), Maelyn Gerard (Joshua) and Joseph Sherblom; Hannah Burke, Carson Burke and Harper Burke; as well as his three great grandchildren, Alaina Sherblom, Lucas Gerard and Brannan Gerard. Dusty’s older brother, James Burke, died in 2012.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 20th at the Unitarian Universalist Church at 11 Washington St. in Sherborn. The family will host a reception following the service at the home of Kelly and Frank DuMar. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, 322 Eighth Ave., 7th Floor, New York, NY 10001, 1-866-AFA-8484, or online at www.alzfdn.org. Those wishing to learn more about Dusty and share remembrances may do so online at www.dustinmburke.com, a website devoted to his life.
3 thoughts on “Dustin M. Burke Obituary”
Dusty has had such a huge impact on my life! he mentored my for many years and I also felt very blessed to meet many of his family members. my thoughts and prayers go out to all of Dusty’s friends and family. The world is a much better place because of Dusty as he gave so generously of his time and wisdom. Actually I woke up in the middle of the night last week wrestling with a business issue and clearly remembered what Dusty had told me 20 years ago about a similar issue!!!
Such a great man and he will be missed so much!!!!
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John, thank you so much for your kind words. My father respected and admired you and spoke of you fondly – we appreciate your writing to us!
dusty was an a person to look up to he was a very smart man and an awesome caring person