Richard W. Burke, '58: Giving to Honor What He Has Received

Appeared in Record issue: 
Spring 2010

When Richard W. Burke, '58, was considering attending college, his choices were limited by finances. "My father was a milkman," Burke recalls, "and there was not much left over for fancy schooling." Then the Serra Club of Chicago, a Catholic organization named for the missionary Junípero Serra, stepped in and offered him a scholarship that enabled him to attend his first choice, Notre Dame. When Notre Dame's president, Father Theodore Hesburgh, recommended that Burke should attend law school at the University of Chicago, the Serra Club provided another scholarship to make that possible.

For that assistance, and for many other experiences in his life, Burke says, "I have a hefty dues bill to pay even to begin paying back for all the help, guidance, and other support I have been fortunate to receive." His gratitude to the Law School has been manifested in many ways, including his endowment of the Richard W. Burke Scholarship, which helps students pursue public interest careers, and his many activities in support of the school as a reunion chair, member of the Visiting Committee, consistent Annual Fund donor, and counselor to many deans.

"My family was from Chicago and I lived at home for all three years of law school to stretch my scholarship dollars. As a result, I was not involved in campus life as much as most other law students," he recalls. "But the training I received from that extraordinary faculty-people such as Ed Levi, Karl Llewellyn, and Soia Mentschikoff-was a great education, one that still affects the way I think about law and practice it. The Law School was then, and still is now, a premier law school in the country."

Today, Burke practices at Burke, Warren, MacKay, and Serritella, the firm he cofounded in 1992 and led until recently as managing partner. The firm's roots go back to 1980, when he established the firm's predecessor; some of its partners have practiced together for more than 25 years. At the beginning of his career, Burke was a member of the three-person firm of the legendary Chicago attorney William Kirby, who later served for 20 years as vice chairman, general counsel, and a director of the MacArthur Foundation. "My good fortune in working with Bill Kirby and being mentored by him is another gift that I can only begin to repay," Burke says.

In part, he pays that back by providing wise counsel to deans of the Law School. He is now serving his third term on the Visiting Committee. Former Dean Saul Levmore observes a distinctive characteristic of his approach: "Dick has a way of paying compliments as a means of giving wise counsel. I would read a note from him, or engage in conversation, thinking at first that he had gone a bit over the top with something about the Law School or its Dean, and then as it settled in I recognized that subtle and effective values and advice had been transmitted."

Levmore also notes, "Dick Burke is, among other things, a terrific model when it comes to family and community matters-so much so that one hardly notices that he is also a major force in an important law firm." He has served as president of Catholic Charities in Chicago and as cochair of its capital campaign. He has been a longtime member of the board of advisors of St. Mary of the Lake Seminary and is presently vice chairman of that board. He previously was a director of the Mercy Hospital Foundation. In 2004, he and his wife, Maryjeanne, were awarded Catholic Charities' Mandatum Award for "living and exemplifying Christ's mandate to serve the poor with compassion and generosity."

Enabling others to serve is an important purpose behind the scholarship he funded at the Law School. "Helping graduates get out from under some of the constraints of their financial debt to use their skills to serve the public interest is a very satisfying outcome for me," he says. "It's also good to know that my gift, along with other ones, including the loan forgiveness and repayment program so generously financed by my classmate James Hormel, helps the Law School attract the brilliant students that contribute to making it such a special place." He also has helped celebrate the Law School as a special place by serving as a volunteer for virtually every reunion since his graduation and as chairman of his class's 50th reunion.

An important reunion of another sort took place for Burke when his four children, their spouses, and his seven grandchildren gathered with him and his wife last summer near Chicago. "My wonderful family is surely a great, great blessing," he says. "To have been blessed as I have been in so many ways-how could I not want to give back?"