CANTON, Mass. - Brendan Burke, the son of Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and an advocate for gay rights, was remembered Tuesday for his compassion and courage, four days after his death in a car crash on a snowy Indiana road.
"From birth, he had an unshakable faith in the genuine good that resides in all people," his brother Patrick said at a funeral mass. "Along with that faith is hope, hope that he could bring that good out from inside of people and into the world by being open, caring and kind to everyone he met." Brendan Burke was a goalie at Xaverian Brothers High School in nearby Westwood but decided not to play as a senior because the locker-room atmosphere was becoming harder to deal with, according to an article on ESPN.com in December.
That article related how he told his father on Dec. 30, 2007, that he was gay.
"I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan," Brian Burke said in the story. "This news didn't alter any of them." Brendan, 21, was in the second semester of his senior year at Miami University in Ohio, where he was student manager of the hockey team. He died Friday when his car slid sideways into the path of another vehicle. His friend, Mark Reedy, 18, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., also died in the accident.
Many mourners stood for the mass inside the packed St. John The Evangelist Church. Among those who attended were staff and players from Miami, wearing their red jerseys with white letters and numbers, and staff and players from the Maple Leafs. Also there was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, New Jersey Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn and Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
Brendan "was strong and unyielding in his convictions but soft, sweet and gentle in their application," Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, told those in attendance. "He was the face of a movement and will always be the soul of a family. To many of us, Brendan's world was a dream world. Brendan had the courage to transcend cynicism and fear and live for 21 glorious years in that dream." After the mass, Brian Burke stood outside on a sunny, chilly day and shook hands with those leaving the church.
Brian Burke also is general manager of this year's U.S. Olympic hockey team. He played four seasons through 1977 at Providence College when Lamoriello coached there, graduated in 1981 from Harvard Law School and went on to become NHL vice-president and director of hockey operations and general manager of the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks, before joining Toronto as president and general manager on Nov. 29, 2008.
"I don't think there are any words or expressions that can really say what everybody feels today," Lamoriello said. "It's just tremendous to see the outpouring of care and the way everybody just comes together, but it's a sad day." Mike Milbury, former coach of the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, has known Brian Burke for nearly 40 years.
"It's just so numbing," Milbury said. "I know that he's a tough guy, Brian, but I know this has buckled his knees. ... Brendan had a lot of friends. Brian's got plenty, as is well documented here today. Life marches on." Several of Brendan's friends from elementary school in Canton attended the mass. Some of them spent time with Brendan last month during the winter break from college.
"He was a very good friend to all of us, always trying to make us laugh, always put us first and he was always there for us when we needed it," said Steve Ivanoski, 20, who praised Brendan's gay advocacy. "He was getting emails. He was helping anyone out who had any problem with it. He was always outspoken. He always wanted to get his point across and he always did get his point across." Brendan spent last summer as an intern for U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat.
For Patrick Burke, the lessons of his brother's life live on.
"His vision of the world was a spark that lit a fire of hope in so many people," he said. "That fire has not been extinguished by his passing. His memory will fan the flame of courage in all of us, inspiring all of us to be a little kinder, a little stronger, a little better, a little more like Brendan.
"Through all of us, his hope still lives and his dream will never die."