Dusty Burke, Sr. 11/9/1927 – 2/16/2016
Eulogy, Saturday, February 20, 2016
Delivered by Dusty Burke, Jr.
Unitarian Universalist Church
11 Washington St.
I look out and see so many familiar faces, so many who have touched Dad’s and our hearts in our childhood and all our lives. All of us here, and so many others that couldn’t be here, share at least one thing in common: Dusty Burke made each of us feel like the most important, special person in the world.
No matter what might be pressing on his mind, he was always able to focus his immediate interest in our lives with a warmth and tact so genuine, an encouragement so uplifting, that we would crave our next encounter with him.
He had this uncanny ability to guide us with the right question to a position of insight that gladdened our spirit, developed our self-confidence, and excited us about the world we lived in.
He felt that there was never any problem you couldn’t overcome with hard work and thoughtful planning. He put his faith in us, trusting that if he did, we would develop faith in ourselves.
Trust thyself,” he reminded us from Emerson, “every heart vibrates to that iron string.”
Dusty died about 8:30 Tuesday night and, since that time, the outpouring of love and remembrances from so many around the country have greatly comforted my siblings and me. “I love that man and I would do anything for him” was a sentiment expressed by many. At the same time, we have had anxiety about not connecting with everyone who would want to know of Dusty’s passing. Many of you here and many others as well have again comforted us with a number of calls and communications to others on our behalf. Karen, Kelly, Jojo, Bobby and I are grateful.
Max and Cherie, I can’t imagine how challenging it must have been to get here from New Mexico on such short notice. “Mr. Burke,” who loved you dearly, and all of us who consider you adored members of our family, are deeply grateful that you made it.
We were told about 14 months ago by a geriatric psyche physician that Dad was getting ready to go. We were crushed. We took Dad to the best hospice facility we could find, they examined him, and said your father is not getting ready to die. We took him to the Newton Wellesley Alzheimer’s Center where they too reassured us that Dad likely would live for many more months. And he did. These many months at Newton Wellesley Alzheimer’s he was looked after by a wonderful staff who, as you might imagine, grew to love Dusty. Dad remained stable these many months, still having many good moments of interaction with all of us, continuing to share his trademark smile and good wishes, mannerisms of warmth and enthusiastic interest in us, especially the grandchildren. To the untrained ear, much of what he said was unintelligible, of course, but we knew, we intuited, what he was saying, and that he continued to know us and love us. Suddenly last weekend, after these many months of stability and serenity, Dad must have decided he was ready to go. He died peacefully, surrounded by his family. He joins Mom at his Memorial Garden Bench at Pine Hill Cemetery.
Jody and Norm, Bob and Dottie, Sue and Gerry: As big brothers go, they probably don’t get much better than Dusty. If there is such a thing as a real life archetype of what a big brother is supposed to be, Dusty was surely it. Never was this clearer to me than reading those many letters home to your Mom and Dad from Dusty while at Mount Hermon, in the army in Japan, and at Harvard. So many of these letters reveal the emphasis that he placed to his folks on his concerns for you, with reminders to be sure to pass on to you his encouragement in addressing the challenges and loves in your life at the time: Bob’s football, Sue’s piano lessons, Jody’s handling of her many male suitors. And above all, academics. Norman, in Dusty’s passing, a tiny part of you may be relieved to think that you will never again be button-holed by Dusty to strap a Boston Sunday Globe to each shin and get in the goal for a family hockey game. Don’t be so sure.
You all, along with Dusty and Shirley, despite your many challenges growing up, have been remarkable and courageous leaders that have, out of ashes, created and continue to lead an amazing family. Your sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, love you dearly.
Karen, Kelly, Jojo and Bobby: We have had a tough week. As you did so amazingly when Mom died, you have once again staggered me with your extraordinary love and effort and talent. Your leadership in looking after Dad these many years of Alzheimer’s enabled each of us to continue to share so many great times with Dad, and so even though this has been a week of many tears for all of us, we have been able to comfort one another with back rubs and stories, pictures and remembrances, poems and songs, (and action items accomplished!), that remind each of us how much joy Dad has given us, and how much love and respect we share for one another.
To all of Grampy’s Grandchildren: Grampy adored you. Your parents and uncles and aunts see so many of Grampy’s traits in you.
Always remember what Grampy would hope for each of you: to discover your passions and plan and take action to live those passions. Many of you are already on this path, and, like Grampy, are setting examples for your younger siblings, cousins and friends. Remember that Grampy will be available to assist you on your path, in your dreams, your memories and your imagination. And remember to be grateful above all else, that, unlike your parents, you never had to get up in the morning at dawn on a rainy Saturday morning at Laurel Lake, put on a damp, soggy bathing suit, and race like crazy to beat Grampy into the water and out to The Rock.
Of the many hundreds of remarkable traits I admired in Dad, I would like to share with you brief thoughts on just three.
First, Dusty was a fierce competitor.
- Athol Flash
- Carroll’s anecdote about QB as Harvard freshman
- Dusty knocking Jack Kelly out of rink
- Natick hockey coach’s Dad – “meanest guy he ever played against!”
- Club championship, down 4 holes after 5, “we’re gonna beat these guys,” why don’t you try your 1 iron. We won, no help from me.
- Tried to return the favor – played in father/son qualifier tournament for Nationals – #1 team in country was our opponent. I went up to Dad before the match and pumped my fist and said, “Dad, these guys are gonna kill us.” They did.
Second: Dusty was fiercely independent and had great faith in himself.
- In 1965, asked to speak on college education funding before a house sub-committee. When asked to sign a loyalty oath he refused. Told the Dean. Dean said, “don’t sign – c’mon home.” Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Dusty, someone must have had to approach LBJ – I imagine it went something like this: “I need those Harvard SOB’s to help me. I need those Harvard guys inside the tent on this pissin’ out, not outside the tent pissin’ in.” They decided to let Dad testify.
- Harvard Golf Coach: Dusty was shut out from trying out by the coach. Dusty told the Dean, all I want it a tryout. Coach was forced to call a try-out and Dad won the qualifying tournament.
Third: Dusty was fiercely honorable. Dusty always told the truth, and never, ever, would take anything that did not belong to him.
- Harvard Hockey Puck story
- Baseball in the cap at last September’s Red Sox game. Bobby, imagine if Dad were sitting next to you instead of Carson, Huck and Tony! The question that I pose to all of you? Would Dusty have made Bobby return the ball?
In closing, Dad, you were the best there ever was. The stars were aligned over Athol, Mass. on that cold November 9 night of 1927, and they may never so align again. I love you.
~ Dustin M. Burke, Jr.