Jefferson Award Winners Support Organ Donation, Music In Schools, And The PoorBy Elizabeth Cook

LAFAYETTE (KPIX 5) — Marilyn and Jerry Burke describe their daughter Julia as bright, fun, and funny.

“Just the word kindness… when friends talk to us about Julia, it’s not the accomplishments, it’s the kindness,” Jerry Burke explained.

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“[She was] very concerned about people left behind by their political and economic systems,” Marilyn said.

“She just always reached out to those who were struggling,” Jerry added.

The couple dreamed of starting a foundation to help disadvantaged people with the hope that one day, Julia would take it over.

But in October, 1998, they lost their only child in a car accident. She was just 16 years old.

In the midst of the worst tragedy a parent can face, the Burkes found a way to keep Julia’s spirit alive: one month after her death, they founded the Julia Burke Foundation, and began supporting groups that were important to their daughter, everything from helping underprivileged students to helping with the cost of organ donations.

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“She said, “Mom, it’s a no-brainer! If somebody has something they don’t need, and it could save (a) life, why did they not give that gift?'” Marilyn remembered Julia telling her.

Julia also loved music. She played the flute just to relax after a long day. She fostered that passion at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette, where Bob Athayde was her music teacher.

“They just say, ‘Bob what do you want to do? Ok, we’ll fund that,'” Athayde said of the Burkes’ support for the program. “If it’s funding for the complete recording studios, stereo systems, they haven’t let any bureaucracy get in the way.”

Julia was also a nationally ranked debater, so the Burkes have worked to nurture that passion in other young participants. The Foundation supports high school awards at an annual national tournament and locally in Oakland, along with programs and scholarships.

Seventeen years after Julia passed away, the Foundation established in her name has grown exponentially. Jerry and Marilyn have contributed money and time to more than 30 organizations around the world, all while staying true to their daughter’s values.

“They took that which (for) most people… it would have pushed them right over the edge, and made a foundation to help people,” Athayde said.

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So for turning their grief into giving, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Jerry and Marilyn Burke.

Elizabeth Cook