The loss of Bill Burke the New York Irish businessman, who recently passed, to community can not be over stated.

“Bill Burke will help you out, no problem there.”

Those words were spoken on more than one occasion by many members of New York’s Irish business community about the legendary Bill Burke, who died suddenly on Monday at the age of 76.

His loss to our community cannot be overstated.  The word legendary is probably one of the most overused, but in the case of Burke it doesn’t go far enough.

You needed a loan to get your business off the ground?  No problem, Bill would sort it. 

The legendary Bill Burke.

The legendary Bill Burke.

Advice on how to make it in New York as a new arrival…what to do, who to connect with?  The go-to person would be Bill Burke.

For many years Burke, a native of Co. Sligo, presided over the Bank of Ireland’s headquarters on Fifth Avenue, not far from St. Patrick’s Cathedral which he proudly marched past as grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1988.

He came from humble beginnings and rose to the top of his industry in the biggest playing field of all, New York City, yet he never once put his Irishness to one side. 

Always approachable, always willing to lend a helping hand, much of Ireland in New York wouldn’t have existed back in the 1980s and ‘90s without his guidance and wise counsel. 

Once his time with the Bank of Ireland was over, he used his experience to help build Country Bank into a hugely successful business, lending money to Irish dreamers and continuing to offer his wealth of experience to the next generation of Bill Burkes.

He was also not afraid to call a spade a spade, which is what he did in 2000 when he openly questioned the inner workings of the parade he once led up Fifth Avenue.  At the time, John Dunleavy was the parade leader calling the shots, and Burke spoke for many when he told the Irish Voice, “I think everything about the parade should be done differently…there are many grand marshal candidates out there now who aren’t even being considered now, and that drives me insane.”

Burke photographed with an Aer Lingus air hostess while acting as the New York St. Patrick's Day parade Grand Marshal.

Burke photographed with an Aer Lingus air hostess while acting as the New York St. Patrick's Day parade Grand Marshal.

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks for the Irish American community with the passing of two giants – Burke and Bill Flynn, the former chairman and CEO of Mutual of America and vital participant in the Irish peace process, who died at the age of 91 on June 2.

The Irish peace process would have been starkly different back in its fledgling days in the early 1990s had Flynn not used his legitimacy to work hard for a first U.S. visa for Gerry Adams. 

And New York’s Irish community would be much different too if Burke hadn’t acted as one of its core building blocks.  

We are so much the richer as Irish Americans because of their contributions, and because we get to call them one of our own.

So thank you and rest in peace to two of the proudest and most influential Irish Americans we’ll ever have the honor of knowing.  The Burke and Flynn families will hopefully take much solace in the difficult days ahead with the knowledge that both Bills have left indelible marks.

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