Eulogy for My Brother, Jackie Burke

Delivered by Thomas Burke at funeral mass, Saint John the Evangelist Church, October 16, 2014

John V. Burke

John V. Burke

On behalf of Jackie’s son Patrick and all of Jackie’s brothers and sisters, I thank you all for being with us this morning. Your presence here and your thoughtfulness during recent weeks has meant a great deal to everyone.

Our lives are but a brief moment in time between two vast eternities. Jackie’s moment is ended, and he has entered the eternity that follows. But however brief was his life, however brief is anyone’s life, that doesn’t mean it cannot be filled with wonderful and happy memories. And as Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey reminds us, “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.”

So let’s share some of those memories of my brother. I’m sure you all have many favorite ones, as do I. Jackie is with us now in spirit, his pain is gone, and he wants us to smile when we think of him today.

Childhood. Jackie was born ten years after I was. That decade’s age difference let me be the big brother in ways that Peter and Jimmy weren’t able to. I delivered newspapers all through grammar school, and my bike was equipped with a special, extra-large, industrial strength wire basket on the front. It was ideal for carrying 75 Boston Globes or one two-year old boy.

When I was taking care of Jackie, I used to love riding about the town with him in that basket. We’d go to the parks, the playgrounds, the beaches. Every time down at Winthrop Beach, he would point out “the balls.” Those giant golf-ball domes atop the Fort Heath radar towers.

It’s so much fun showing new and wondrous things to little ones. And for me, on those rides around town, I got to show him off to all the friends I’d meet. Especially to the girls. How I loved to do that.

I was so proud of my baby brother.

Adolescence. That meant hockey memories. They begin with all those years of my mother and Catherine McDonald driving Jackie and the McDonald boys here, there and everywhere. They all became very good hockey players, and when they got to high school they played together on the “Irish Line.” Jackie was the right wing, Bobby the center and Joe the left wing. They were the highest scoring high school Division One line in the state in 75-76. They won the East Coast Aero Tech Trophy for that. They’re in the Winthrop High Hall of Fame.

Jackie did pick up one edgy little habit along the way. When he scored a goal, sometimes he’d rub it in by turning his stick around and pretending he was shooting the goalie with the Ugly Gun. The Danvers athletic director complained to Jim Evans, and he put a stop to it.

I was there for those state tournament games at the Garden. That third overtime against Norwood – after midnight – Jackie stealing the pass in the Winthrop zone and going in alone for the winning goal, 4-3. Then again in the Eastern Mass final against Braintree, he got the game winner.

I made it into the locker room after the Braintree game. Reporters were all over the place, and I happened to catch a glimpse of one guy’s notepad after he interviewed Jackie. By that time, word had gotten out that he was the nephew of the late Walter Brown, and Jackie told the reporter that he used to come in to the Garden and practice with the Bruins. Well, Jackie was five when Walter died in 1964. He never knew his uncle Walter, and he certainly never practiced with the Bruins. I tapped the reporter on the shoulder and asked him not to include that tall tale that Jackie concocted in the flush of victory.

Sorry, Jack. I’ve never told anyone about that. But I think I saved you a little embarrassment. Not that your uncle wasn’t pleased to see what you’d done, watching from the Second Balcony. He coached the first American World championship hockey team, he ran the Garden from 1937 to 1964, he was president of the Bruins, and he never had a hockey thrill like that from any family member.
Those were great times. I knew that I’d never see a performance like that again.

I was so proud of my younger brother.

When the cancer came, it was horrible. It’s an angry, diabolical disease. Neither surgery nor intense radiation could slow it down. But Jackie fought it all the way. He got excellent support from his nurses, especially Colleen Kilbride, and from Patrick, a trooper during that battle just as he had been for his country, when he served in the US Marines in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Jackie’s friends rallied to put on a nice benefit evening for him – Charlotte Macrillo Flynn, Owen Gillis, Sharon McCarthy and their committee. Jackie was fighting a lonely battle but he wasn’t alone.

The last day I saw Jackie was on October 7. I was with him for a couple of hours at his apartment. He was in a lot of pain and had difficulty talking. We knew how hard it was for him to take care of himself. When he and I were alone together I asked him to consider going to hospice care. He wrote me a note on his note pad that said “No. If I go there, that means I’m giving up. I’m not giving up. I’m going to fight this.”

That wasn’t what I’d hoped to hear at the time. And eventually he relented. Patrick brought him to the hospice in Danvers to next day. The following morning, Jackie was asleep when Peter stopped by to visit. I was getting ready to leave and go up there later in the day when Peter called. Jackie had not awakened, but had died that afternoon.

So the last time I saw Jackie, he was still fighting, still battling against odds that had become impossible. But maybe that’s just what we should expect of a hockey player.

I was so proud – I am still so proud – of my brother.

Jackie, now it is time to say goodbye. You’re back with Mom and Dad. You’ve probably already been in on some pickup hockey games. And if they designed it properly, hockey players’ heaven is the old Boston Garden, that House of Magic where you had your greatest triumph. It’s jammed with 13,909 souls. And Mom, Dad, Uncle Walter, and all the rest are cheering you on from Section 34, Rows C and D.

Please give them our love. Your brothers and sisters, and all of us here today, will be along to join you by and by.

Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

And forever, brother, hail and farewell.

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12 Responses to “Eulogy for My Brother, Jackie Burke”

  1. Richard Honan Says:

    And forever, brother, hail and farewell.

  2. Barbara Smith Morgan Says:

    Beautifully written Tom!

  3. Joanne Kuzborski Says:

    I tried to get to the site to comment and for some reason, couldn’t. What a magnificent tribute to a great man, brother, father and friend to many.

    Joanne Kuzborski

  4. DARLA BEBRIN Says:

    This is a wonderful tribute to your Brother. God Bless you all at this difficult time and be happy that he no longer suffers. xo Cousin
    Darlene

  5. Barbara Fielding Says:

    To the Burke family….I remember that “ugly gun”!!! Something the boys (he & Joe Mac) invented around the age of 10 or 11…Stooges, I think. I went to St. John’s with Wacka & remember him being a quiet kid around the girls. He had great talent when it came to hockey & for some reason I was quite proud of those kids in High School that won the States for us…your brother, Joe Mac, Fred Tape, Beep, etc… I spoke with him at our 10th class reunion only to find out he had graduate from Harvard that same day!! I’m sure the Angels are taking good care of him & he is no longer in human pain…Godspeed Wacka…xoxoxo

  6. Terry and Doug Finer Says:

    Beautiful Tom, from one who has two younger brothers. That love is so powerful and sweet. So sorry for your family’s loss.

  7. Patrick J. Daly Says:

    Poignant and touching eulogy, Tom. I was unaware of your relationship with Jackie and of his illustrious hockey background. Because of that and so many other things, the bond between the two of you must have been so incredibly tight. I’m sure everyone in the extended Burke household must have been very proud of the fine send off you gave to your brother. Roman poets had a way with words and your use of the time honored phrase was a fitting and heartfelt farewell………. Pat Daly

  8. Dawn Says:

    Dawn Jeffries What a beautiful Eulogy. Your memories and stories brought me back. I didn’t know Jack as a kid as I didn’t move to Winthrop ’til the early 80’s and didn’t meet him ’til the late 80’s Am grateful that he shared some of his childhood stories with me and will always cherish them even more!! And with more humor!!!

  9. A Classmate Says:

    I was like a thousand other Winthrop kids who played hockey in the 1970s and loved it despite being not very good at it. Then there were kids like your brother and his teammates who played the game at a completely different level. To this day, the games that team played were the most exciting I ever watched, and I vividly remember that winning goal in the triple overtime almost 40 years later.

    I was a classmate of your brother’s but not really part of his circle. He was a really nice kid to me whenever we interacted, though, always a gentleman like your other brother Peter.

    I am sorry for your loss and hope your faith is a comfort to you, your family, and Jack’s family.

  10. Michael Poirier Says:

    Tom, deepest sympathy for the loss of your brother. I remember Jackie well. Although I was captain of the high school team in 1973.I remember being on the ice with Jackie. Bobby McDonald
    was a good friend of mine.As was Johnny Rocowiz and Steven Barker. Two other hockey players on the big pond in the sky. I was at the gardens when your brother had his stardom.He accomplished all the things I never could. I played all my life with one of the other great Winthrop players. MIKE ERUZIONE.
    It seems strange that even though I live thousands of miles away. I still feel connected to the kids I grew up with and shared the ice with. I remember Jackie and Joe cox and Bobby McDonald on he tennis courts at the park.Larry Larsen would flood the tennis courts at night so we would have ice in the morning.At sixty years old I still play hockey here in Santa Rosa California. Joe Cox has come out to play in our summer tournament at the Charles Schulz rink. I will always feel connected to Jackie. We were Winthrop boys.The best of the best.I believe I will meet Jackie again with Roco and Steve Barker on the pond in the sky. It might even be called Louis Lake. God speed to heaven Jackie . I will always have good memories of the Irish line. Respectfully Michael Poirier Class of 1973.

  11. Rocky Aliberti Says:

    Never being able to skate at their level , I was blessed to be relegated to those boy’s street hockey team. The home rank was the MacDonald brother’s back yard and I was their goalie! Loved Jackie. I spent too few days fishing off the Belle isle bridge with him all those years ago. He used to emulate Ted Willams and Kurt Cowdy every cast!

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