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William Alexander Burck, III

Died: December 30, 2000

William Alexander Burck was born on September 3, 1944, in Newark, New Jersey. He prepared for Yale at Columbia Senior High School, Maplewood, NJ. Entering Yale in the fall of 1962, he majored in history, played freshman football, and was a member of Silliman College. At Yale, he joined Zeta Psi, the Yale Political Union, the Yale Republican Club, the Yale Apollo Glee Club, and the Yale Russian Chorus.

After graduating from Yale, Bill received a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania law school. Following work as an associate at the law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, he joined Data General Corporation as Deputy Counsel for International Affairs. While at Data General, Bill served on various advisory boards and other positions involving international trade and other international matters. He taught as an adjunct professor of international law at the Massachusetts School of Law and contributed articles on international trade, technological innovation, and other aspects of international business law to the Boston Bar Association, the International Law Society, and the Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education program, among others.

In recognition of his many diverse interests and accomplishments, Bill received a special commendation from the American Blind Skiing Foundation, an award from the International Law Society entitled “Communications Achievement for International Understanding,” a Letter of Merit from the Portland (Jamaica) Parish Library, an award from the Portland Environmental Protection Society, Jamaica, and a Special Award for Meritorious Service to the United States-Mexico Advisory Committee.

Toward the end of his life, Bill lived with his Jamaican-born wife, Claudette Eleanor Reid, in Jamaica.

Bill learned he had cancer in late summer of 2000; and, after a brief illness, died at home in late December, 2000. The following poem, “On Receipt of Notice,” was written by Bill and read at his funeral:

“Do not let them ever fool you, it cannot be sensed or understood until you enter the hallway, the one with no further doors yourself.

This is perhaps why we walk through so many doors in our life to other rooms and try to or just find new ones everyday. Because we believe there is opportunity or newness after we open the door. Or in the alternative for some of the less intrepid we only go through portals where we know what lies under and on the other side. None of us looks for final bewilderment or the true end to our searching.

Here, at the threshold of this endless hallway, you no longer have the luxury of further deceiving yourself that there is time for this and that, to make amends, apologize, cry out, correct wrongs, fight for freedom, start fresh to love again, to invent and create, begin a journey, end a sordid relationship with money or profession, rekindle a dream, sequence a thought, lead or yield, or evolve from saint or sinner.

The end is clear, if the timing and exact pathway uncertain. So you only have the occasion left to finish your own tale.”

Robert Anderson remembers:
Billy Burck was my first friend, my best childhood friend (he was always Billy; I was Robert). Baseball was a big part of our bond — and our rivalry: we played for different Little League teams, we rooted for different Major League teams (he, Dodgers; I, Yankees). After sixth grade my family moved away; later we both chose Yale.

And we both wrote: he, poetry; I, novels and plays. Once, at a party at our apartment in New Bedford that he and his wife, Claudette, attended, I asked him to recite one of his poems for an English professor friend of mine, also a poet. Billy, never shy, promptly complied, reciting from memory. “I’m impressed,” my friend said. So was I, and not only that, proud of him: that he was not afraid to look inside himself, to express what he found there. I was proud of myself, too: for feeling no sense of rivalry.

Below is Billy’s last poem (I continued calling him that, although by the time he got to Yale he was Bill), written when he knew he was dying of cancer.

*

On Receipt of Notice

*

Do not let them ever fool you, it cannot be sensed or understood

until you enter the hallway, the one with no further doors, yourself.

This is perhaps why we walk through so many doors in our life

to other rooms and try to or just find new ones every day.

Because we believe there is opportunity or newness after we open the door.

Or in the alternative for some of the less intrepid we only go through portals where we know what lies under and on the other side.

None of us looks for final bewilderment or the true end to our searching.

Here, at the threshold of this endless hallway,

You no longer have the luxury of further deceiving yourself

that there is time for this and that

to make amends apologize cry out correct wrongs fight for freedom

start fresh to love again

to invent and create

begin a journey end a sordid relationship with money or profession rekindle a dream sequence a thought

lead or yield or evolve from saint or sinner.

The end is clear, if the timing and exact pathway uncertain.

So you only have the occasion left to finish your own tale.

I say spare me the time to tell it.

***

“Reality is not what you think it is. Reality is so beautiful…. I see the light —invite me in —” (Bill Burck’s last words, as told to me by his widow, Claudette)

Gregory Weiss remembers:
I knew Bill for a long time. When we met at Yale on the freshman football team, we realized that we had played high school football against each other. He and I went to Penn Law School together and after law school joined the same law firm in NYC. Bill was one of the brightest, most fun-loving guys I ever knew. Always disheveled, I can remember him in law school wearing one blue sock and one red one. Rarely was his shirt fully tucked in. But what a talented guy. I remember being amazed at what a terrific piano player he was. What really sticks out when I remember Bill is what a lovable, warm hearted guy he was. He always had a big smile and was friendly to everyone.

Robert Pratter remembers:
I met Bill when we started at Penn Law School. He was bright, irreverent, a non-conformist, full of life, and as Greg Weiss has noted in his remembrance, all existing beneath an exterior appearance resembling an unmade bed. People who did not get beyond the surface may have thought he was a goofball, but he was anything but. Bill was never cowed by law professors and enjoyed parrying ideas with anyone who would take the time. Ideas would tumble forth from Bill like a torrent. You had to listen carefully, because his mind was going so quickly, often punctuated by large waving of hands and laughs as he spun out whatever he was thinking. His last poem reflects the insight, self-deprecation, and unflinching honesty that he had as a young man. He is an unforgettable character.