William Burke, Jr.
Service was held
on October 25, 2001.
Capt. William F. Burke Jr. a firefighter is a little like referring
to Elvis as an entertainer. Captain Burke took the job description
and set it over the high flame of his personality, rendering
something else entirely. "He always made everything better,"
said his brother Michael, "and in Manhattan, it's nice
to be around somebody like that." Like his
father, who worked in the South Bronx in the 1960's when fires
raged around the clock, Captain Burke, known as Billy, believed
in putting his men first. On Sept. 11, he ordered them out of
the north tower, his brother said, while he continued searching
for people to rescue. In Stuyvesant Town, the Manhattan
residential complex where he had an apartment, Captain Burke,
46, enjoyed a parade of admirers. Some were romantic interests,
penciled into his address book, drawn by his singular charm.
"The first words out of his mouth every single time he
met a woman were, `Have you lost weight?' " his brother
said. Then there were the neighbors he helped out. He liked
to bicycle to his firehouse, Engine Company 21 on East 40th
Street, but if he saw someone struggling with groceries, he'd
screech to a halt. He spent 25 summers working as
a lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park, and a friend, Stuart
Kaplan, remembered how the oldest living Jones Beach lifeguard
turned up one day. The man was sickly and in a wheelchair, but
his dearest wish was to swim in the ocean one last time. Captain
Burke put an arm around him and helped him into the waves. Afterward,
they shared a cold beer and then another. Everybody went home
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