About Shirley, Dusty’s Wife

Obituary: Shirley Burke

Born Shirley Elaine Brackett on June 16, 1927, in Athol, she was the daughter of Clarence and Marguerite Brackett. One of five children, she grew up in Athol with her sisters, Virginia Nevins of Athol, and Marion Brackett (deceased), and her brothers, Robert Brackett (deceased) and Donn Brackett of Rancho Mirage, Calif.
In 1929, Clarence and Marguerite built a cottage at nearby Laurel Lake in Fitzwilliam, N.H., and Shirley and her brothers and sisters never missed spending a summer there with each other throughout their lives. Building or buying their own cottages as adults, they shared the joy of summers on the sandy beach in the pine grove with their own children and grandchildren.
A graduate of Athol High School in 1945, Shirley, nicknamed “Cuddles” and “Brack,” was a popular drum majorette in the marching band. Her graduating class voted her “Most Original” and “Class Clown.” She went on to graduate from Becker Junior College in Worcester, where she served as president of her class. In the years following her graduation, Shirley loved her work as a medical records librarian employed by Athol Memorial Hospital and the Beth Israel Hospital until the early years of her marriage, when she started her family.

Dear Dusty.001

Although Shirley and Dusty both grew up in Athol and graduated from high school together, they did not date until years later when they bumped into each other on the golf course in Athol. Home visiting Athol after graduating from Harvard College, Dusty admired Shirley’s swing and asked her for a golf date. She said yes. On May 8, 1953, after months of commuting from Athol to Cambridge on a regular basis to type Dusty’s Harvard Business School term papers, she married him in a ceremony that was held in Athol. In 1958, Dusty and Shirley bought their home in Sherborn, where they raised five children and lived together for 50 years.
An avid golfer and tennis player, Shirley enjoyed playing both with Dusty at the Dedham Country and Polo Club, where they were members since the 1960s. In the years when the club had a bowling alley, they belonged to the bowling league. Known as the best woman bowler at the club, Shirley took home trophies year after year.
Shirley was a natural and enthusiastic homemaker who was talented in a variety of self-taught domestic arts. She loved to knit and rapidly produced ski sweaters and baby blankets for anyone who needed them. If a room needed wallpaper, she stripped and re-papered it; if a couch needed a makeover, she reupholstered it herself; if a room needed a rug, she braided one; if a bureau needed refinishing, she stripped and painted it. A passionate and creative seamstress, she sewed all her young daughters’ dresses — even miniature clothes for their Barbie dolls. Practical and thrifty, she sewed her own party dresses and suits, and later, prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses for her daughters. When her children became parents, she enjoyed sewing outfits, stuffed bunnies, and Halloween costumes for her grandchildren as well.
One of her greatest pleasures and talents was cooking and making meals for her family and entertaining the Harvard students Dusty brought home on a regular basis during his 15 years running Harvard Student Agencies in Cambridge. She was loved and appreciated for her ability to host parties for large numbers with very little notice.
While homemaking and raising her young children, Shirley was an energetic volunteer in the Sherborn community, devoting many hours to community activities such as the League of Women Voters, Campfire Girls and the Good as New Shop at the Unitarian Church in Sherborn. Every autumn, she looked forward to entering her award-winning bread and butter pickles and homemade bread in Sherborn’s annual Grange Fair.
In 1969 Shirley obtained her real estate license and began a long career working with Jean Homer of Homer Associates in Sherborn, where she became a successful real estate agent. She was a natural saleswoman who enthusiastically and patiently spent days, weeks or months showing houses to her many customers helping them to find the perfect new home. She was a member of the Board of Realtors until she retired in 1995.
After retiring, she enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren, participating in bridge clubs in Sherborn and the Dedham Country Club, and serving as secretary of the Boggastow Garden Club in Sherborn. Most of all, she enjoyed sitting amidst the serenity of her screened-in porch in the quiet back yard of her beloved home surrounded by the fragrant beauty of the flowering trees and bushes Dusty planted for her to enjoy. Dusty and Shirley celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their children and grandchildren in 2003.


In addition to Dusty, Shirley is survived by her five children, Dustin Burke Jr. and his wife, Billie of Sherborn, and their children, Dustin III, Huck, Sam and Meg; Karen Dykstra and her husband Tom, of Seattle, Wash., and their children, Tony and Zoe; Kelly DuMar and her husband, Frank, of Sherborn, and their children, Landon, Perri and Franci; Joanna Sherblom and her husband, Paul, of West Boylston, and their children, Ben, Maelyn, and Joey; Robert Burke and his wife, Pam of Mendon, and their children Hannah, Carson and Harper.
Shirley wished to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered in the three places she loved the most: Bermuda, Laurel Lake and her home in Sherborn. A memorial service will be held on Tuesday, April 29, at the Pilgrim Church in Sherborn at 10:30 a.m. All are welcome to attend this celebration of her life.