The timing was somewhat tragically apropos.
On Saturday, my best friend from middle school and college called to tell us that his dad had died. When we got the call, we had just reached the 6th floor of the Newseum in Washington. My friend’s dad had been, at one time, the Vice President of ABC News and the President of CBS News. My love for politics and journalism is due, in large part, to David Burke. He led an incredible life and welcomed some sarcastic, obnoxious fat little Republican Croat into his home as if he was a member of the family.
Mr. Burke was brilliant and inspiring. He attended Tufts University, and later received an MBA from the University of Chicago. He came from a blue collar background, and had a great passion for labor issues. He worked with later Secretary of State and of Labor, George Schultz, to produce “The Public Interest in a National Labor Policy” for the Committee for Economic Development. This report laid the foundation for national labor relations policy. His work on these matters led to Mr. Burke being named to President John Kennedy’s Labor Advisory Council in 1960.
He led a life that could fill volumes of memoirs. After working for the White House, Mr. Burke became Chief of Staff to Senator Edward Kennedy. Interviews that Mr. Burke gave in the 1970s about his time working with President Kennedy and with Robert F. Kennedy are available here and here.
He spent time at the Dreyfus Corporation in New York before becoming Chief of Staff to Governor Hugh Carey, and was instrumental in saving New York City from an imminent bankruptcy in the late 70s. In the 90s, President Clinton appointed Mr. Burke to be the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, overseeing the Voice of America, and he was named to the New York Daily News’ Board of Directors during the paper’s bankruptcy, and helped save it.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors gives an award in journalism in Mr. Burke’s honor every year, and Tufts’ Tisch School has a Media and Public Service internship named after him.
Mr. Burke helped to spark my interest in news and journalism. My friend, Terence’s birthday party in December 1980 involved us kids sitting silently on the floor next to Sam Donaldson doing the nightly news – the top story was John Lennon’s murder a week earlier. I was staying with the Burkes on the Cape when ABC correspondent Charlie Glass was about to be released from captivity in Lebanon. Mr. Burke arranged for me to meet with the executive producer of World News Tonight when I was considering a career in broadcast journalism. He was a big believer in the importance and power of journalism in a free society. When CBS started to cheap out on its news division, he left. When Senator Kennedy faced a tough re-election campaign in the mid-90s against some Romney fella, he arranged for me to meet the Senator, and I watched a barn-burner of a speech in a Waltham IBEW hall.
Mr. Burke was most recently a member of the Board of Directors of the John F. Kennedy Library, where he was also a member of the Profiles in Courage Award committee.
Mr. Burke led a life that was intimately intertwined with his roots and the turbulent times. He was talented and fortunate enough to have intimate involvement with the political and social upheaval of the 60s, the economic stagnation of the 70s, the international turmoil of the 80s, and was an elder statesman by the 90s. He was the behind-the-scenes negotiator, leader, and fixer.
My family and I send all our love to the Burkes as they say good-bye to this giant of a man.