Jim Burke called me several weeks ago and gave me the sad news that he decided to retire. It was always comforting to know Jim was around if you had a question to pose or an article to solicit. And he was always providing encouragement and opportunities to the upcoming generation.
Now Mr. Burke has a first name, but he is really known as Mr. Distribution. His history speaks for itself. His fingerprints are all over the IEEE transactions papers.
I first met Jim back when I was at Georgia Power. Jim led the distribution practice at Power Technologies Inc. (PTI) in Schenectady, New York. Jim, with his quirky ways and strong opinions, suffused with (dare I say) affection, always intimidated me a little. Some of you might recall that Jim worked standing over an elevated table. This screamed to me, “This man lives by his own rules.”
I called several of Jim's friends to join me in a virtual roast. So, Mr. Distribution, here are what your business associates have added to the written record of your long and illustrious career.
Dan Ward, Virginia Power
My earliest experience with Jim Burke dates back to 1968 when we were both on a GE training program and we shared an office for a year. I was due to get married the following week. One day, I found a note on my desk from Jim that read, “Your fiancée called. It's all off!” Needless to say, we are happily married today and still have Jim's note in our wedding album.
And then there was the time Jim was returning from Miami when the airport security thought he was a drug dealer. They wanted to see a lot more than his ID!
Burke is forever sending out papers that he wrote. When I hadn't received any for some time, I thought there might be something wrong with our firewall, so I sent Jim an e-mail about it. He promised to stop using the word “naked” in the subject line.
Phil Barker, Nova Energy Specialists
Work for someone 10 years of your life, and you will have some interesting stories to tell. Walking to a restaurant after teaching a power distribution course in San Diego, we took a shortcut through a car dealership. As we were glancing at the cars, this “pushy car salesman from Hell” would not let us out of the place. He practically took us hostage in the sales office and threatened not to release us unless one of us bought a car. Somehow, we escaped with wallets intact.
And there was the great New York City restaurant fire of 1991 at the IEEE Winter Power Meeting that Jim just barely escaped with seconds to spare. Rumor has it, it was his dinner order that set the restaurant kitchen on fire, but no one will ever know for sure. One minute the building seemed fine, and the next minute, it was filled with smoke and fire, and everyone was evacuating.
Richard Brown, Worley Parsons
I met Jim 15 years ago when he first moved to North Carolina. We walked our dogs every weekend on local forest trails. His three labs loved to exercise after breakfast, which included scrambled eggs that Jim would fry for them every morning. Being a big dog lover, I once asked Jim, “If you had to go through life with either kids or dogs, but not both, which would you choose?” Being so honest, he still hasn't given me an answer.
On the work side, Jim has to complain about policies and processes at least once a month or feel unfulfilled. My favorite is a story from his PTI days, where he stormed into a vice president's office after a new policy announcement. The vice president simply replied, “Jim, you have always disregarded every other policy. We just assumed that you would disregard this one as well.” This was one of the few times in his life that Jim was at a loss for words.
Cheri Warren, National Grid
I first met the legendary Jim Burke when I interviewed for a job at PTI. He hired me and we agreed on a start date. I showed up, in my suit, ready to get started. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Jim was on vacation for the entire week. I was walked to my desk where a pile of documents awaited — they were all in Spanish. Burke had decided that my first assignment would be a reliability job in Bogota, Columbia. Not to be daunted from the first challenge the master could throw at me, I got a Spanish dictionary and got to work. He never said so, but I think he was pleasantly surprised upon his return.
I have some great stories about Jim who was chair of the distribution committee and his “Chair Babes” — me and Betty Tobin. But, this being a “clean” magazine, most of them can't be told.
Betty Tobin, Snohomish PUD
I will say this: Cheri and I would look for an unusual outing and provide Jim the privilege of escorting us. Memorable excursions included the Bat Cave and Mama's Piano Bar in New York City, and our walk in Vancouver, Canada, where we got a bit off track, and an undercover policeman strongly encouraged us to start walking in the other direction. Then there was a very entertaining cabaret on Clark Street in Chicago where all the performers were in drag costume; Jim was never really the same after that!
Jim also enjoyed going to see “Miss Saigon” and “Mama Mia” in New York City, and afterwards would buy the music. He said that he learned the lyrics to all of the songs, but I'd caution you about asking him to sing them.
Farewell, Our Friend
Cheri speaks for us all when she shared these final thoughts: It's with a heavy heart that I toast Jim one last time. I consider him a mentor, a friend and a significant influence on my life. I am absolutely certain I would not have achieved what I have so far had it not been for the care he gave me and my colleagues. Jim, you will be missed!
Editor's note: Feel free to drop Jim a note of encouragement at email@example.com.