On November 1, Walter Burke of Greenwich, Connecticut passed away peacefully at his home surrounded by his family. He was 96. Walter is survived by his beloved wife of 76 years, Constance (Connie) Morse Burke. He was the father of five children, Bonnie Burke Himmelman of Chevy Chase, Maryland, Walter (Wally) Burke III of Chicago, Illinois, Diane Burke of Denver, Colorado, Douglas Burke of Minneapolis, Minnesota (now deceased), and Nancy Burke Tunney of Greenwich, Connecticut. He had nine grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. His family was always the most important part of his life.
Walter was a distinguished business and philanthropic leader. He was a 1940 graduate of Brunswick School in Greenwich and later served on its Board and as Chairman. Having served his country with the U.S. Navy during World War II, he received his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College after returning from duty in the Pacific. He graduated from Columbia Law School and soon began serving as the chief legal and financial advisor to the renowned inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Sherman Fairchild, the founder of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, Fairchild Engine, Fairchild Semiconductor, and Fairchild Industries. Walter served on many corporate Boards.
During their work together, Walter encouraged Sherman Fairchild to begin a charitable foundation. Upon Sherman's death in 1971, Walter devoted the next four decades to service as President of the Sherman Fairchild Foundation. Through Walter's financial acumen, the Foundation grew substantially and over the many years has made major contributions to a broad range of important institutions within the education, medical research, scientific advancement, and museum worlds. Many of the grants the Foundation has approved have focused on supporting talented researchers and scholars, some of whom were engaged in innovative research that had failed to receive backing from conventional funding sources. Walter felt deeply that the Foundation should take on the risk of supporting these individuals. One of them, Dr. Stanley Prusiner at the University of California San Francisco, went on to win the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1999 for his groundbreaking discovery of the prion, the precursor of certain degenerative neurological diseases. The Foundation under Walter's visionary leadership provided significant early financial support to another individual, Dr. Kip Thorne of Cal Tech who won the Nobel Prize in 2017 in physics for his work in the field of gravitational physics. Over the years, the Foundation has been a major donor to such institutions as Dartmouth, Cal Tech, Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the J.P. Morgan Library, MIT, Harvard, The Phillips Collection, and a host of other institutions. Walter served for many years on the Boards of the Met, the Morgan Library, Union Theological Seminary, Dartmouth, Cal Tech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Columbia. He was a renowned and highly respected Board member because he spoke infrequently and always with a quiet voice but with insights and questions that were incisive. Based upon his early investment experience in venture capital, Walter was able to offer guidance to the investment committees of the Boards on which he served about the importance of alternative investments in growing endowment assets. He was revered by all with whom he worked.
In addition to the Foundation's philanthropy, Walter, with Connie, was a generous personal donor to a host of national and local organizations.
In his almost century of life, Walter's deepest passions were his family, his charitable work, golf, and baseball. He was devoted to every one of his family members and always provided each with loving support and warm encouragement.
Growing up in Larchmont, New York, he and his young playmates would play stickball and touch football games after school. They would sometimes be joined by the iconic Lou Gehrig, who lived in their neighborhood. Through Walter's father's friendship with Ed Barrow, the President of the Yankees, the Burke family enjoyed season's tickets in the first row behind the Yankees dugout for several decades. Historic photos and films of Yankees games over the many years often show a home-run hitting Yankee - Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle - trotting into the dugout and there in the first row of seats can be seen Walter, his parents, and later his wife and one of his children.
Walter leaves a unique legacy as a philanthropist, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. All who have been graced by his presence in their lives will never forget this remarkable man.