Walter Burke, Director of Bristol’s Parks and Recreation, is retiring this month after 24 years on the job. His numerous accomplishments throughout the community have touched many and will benefit the lives of generations to come. Burke was one of ten children living on only their father’s income as a church organist. The family found success as The Burke Family Singers from 1959 to 1972, including appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. Burke would go on to work as a counselor and administrator at St. Aloysius Home, a co-ed orphanage and then residence for sexually abused boys, where he created a recreation program and discovered his knack for grant writing, enabling projects to go from dreams to reality.
"Early on I thought about becoming a priest. I have always had a call to serve. I don’t care about money. The more I can help someone else, the more fulfilled my life is. It’s a way to recognize how the Lord has taken care of me with all my blessings. I can honestly say I have never worked a day in my life.
"I love kids. Kids needs to be nurtured and loved. The first thing I did was change the summer program from the neighborhood playgrounds, where we had six-year-olds playing with fourteen-year-olds. It was difficult to supervise staff and kids. I had the town beach, a big open space to bring all the kids together and separate by age group. Our numbers started to rise, [going] from 50 to 738 two years ago. Last summer we capped it at 500. We’ve never had a problem.
"The courtyard project at the old RI Veterans Home in 2012 fulfilled me the most. The gardens were atrocious. The residents couldn’t go into them. I organized hundreds, including RI Labor Unions and Cardi’s Furniture. We did close to $300,000 of work in a week. Seeing one resident sitting in a wheelchair with only one arm, taking a picture of the gardens, my heart just melted.
"Volunteerism is higher in this community than I have seen anywhere else. My goal as I leave is a sound group to carry the torch of an Aquatic Center, if that’s what the taxpayers want. I love this town and it’s going to be really hard to walk out that door."
Retiring director of Bristol Parks and Recreation, husband, father of four sons