Obituary: Charles R. Burke / Lawyer who fought for Sundays, served on numerous boards

Sept. 22, 1922 - Feb. 15, 2010

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Charles R. Burke was the patron saint of the Sunday afternoon.

As an attorney, he tried one case for the Pittsburgh Hotel Association that changed the law forbidding hotels from serving alcohol on Sundays. Another case allowed bowling on Sunday.

At home in church clothes but unafraid to have some fun in them, Mr. Burke led a life colored by a plethora of funny anecdotes that can only be matched by career achievements.

Mr. Burke, an Oakmont resident whose business acumen put him on many boards and whose laughing spirit once put him in front of an adoring television audience, died Monday of a stroke. He was 87.

Growing up in Queens, New York, Mr. Burke graduated from high school early at age 16 and earned a degree in engineering from Princeton University in 1945 before serving in the Navy.

He would come to Pittsburgh to work as an engineer at the Pennsylvania Railroad in Carnegie before leaving to attend the University of Virginia Law School on the GI bill.

Fielding several job offers out of law school, Mr. Burke remembered the friendliness of Pittsburgh people, moved back and began work at Reed Smith Shaw & McClay.

One night as a young lawyer in Pittsburgh, he attended a charades party and saw a woman acting out the initials for a new wonder drug called ACTH.

She was named Patsy Grable, and they would marry in 1952.

Eventually, Mr. Burke joined McCann Garland law firm, which became McCann Garland Ridall and Burke after he was named partner. He owned the barbershop at the William Penn Hotel for five years.

When his family got a dachshund, Mr. Burke named it Throckmorton because it was the ugliest name he knew.

True to form, Mr. Burke couldn't resist sharing a good thing.

"There was an old bar called the Pewter Mug Downtown that was changing names, and they had a contest to see if patrons could name it," said his son, Chip Burke. "My dad submitted Throckmorton's and they picked it."

Mr. Burke succeeded his father-in-law, Errett Grable, on the board of the Rubbermaid Corp. in 1959.

When on family vacations, Mr. Burke would give his children a thrill and have the family stop at local retailers to ensure Rubbermaid products were properly displayed.

Mr. Burke helped establish the Grable Foundation, a major philanthropic organization in Pittsburgh. His sons both serve on the board of directors.

He also established the Onala Club for recovering alcoholics -- an ironic move considering some of his legal victories, his son admits.

Mr. Burke served on the boards of the UPMC Eye and Ear Institute, The Executive Service Corps of Western Pennsylvania, and Westminster College, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2006.

He served as president of the Better Business Bureau of Western Pennsylvania for 25 years, retiring in 1986.

Mr. Burke will live on YouTube forever with a 1981 appearance on "This Is Your Life," honoring childhood friend Rodney Dangerfield and regaling the audience with tales of their ragtag neighborhood baseball team, the Kew Garden Giants out of Richman High School.

Mr. Burke, standing proudly between Dangerfield and David Frost in a buttoned gray sport coat, upstages his legendary friend and soon has the crowd rollicking with laughter.

Here's Mr. Burke: "Our opponents -- our big rivals -- were the Forest Hills Ravens. They were a class team -- they had uniforms and gloves."

It's safe to say Mr. Burke fared better than his friend: He got some respect.

Mr. Burke is survived by his wife, Patsy, of Oakmont; two sons, Steve Burke and Charles "Chip" Burke Jr., both of Fox Chapel; and six grandchildren. His daughter, Marion "Mimi" Burke, preceded him in death.

Visitation will be held at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church on Friday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. A memorial service will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in the Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, 384 Fox Chapel Road. Interment is private. The family suggests memorial contributions be made to United Way of Pittsburgh.


Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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