John “Sean” Joseph Burke, Jr. passed away on Friday, March 13th, after a long, brave battle with heart disease. He was a true fighter, having already overcome Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the late 80’s and a previous heart attack in 2011. He was a guy who few people fully understood, but many fully loved. He had a quiet charisma, gentle blue eyes, and a mischievous smile that would light up any room. He swore like a sailor, told off-color jokes, and could be a formidable presence. At the same time, he cried easily watching movies and laughed so hard during comedies that you couldn’t help but laugh too. He was known for his extreme generosity: He tipped liberally and prided himself in taking care of his family, friends, and employees. He did so humbly, without care of recognition.
Sean was born on August 20, 1964 to the late John J. Burke, Sr. of Barnstable, MA and Susan Ahern Burke. He was Baptized, received his first holy Communion, and Confirmation at Saint Pius Catholic Church in South Yarmouth, MA. He grew up in South Yarmouth with his mother, grandmother, and brother, Brian. His family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1976, then California in 1979, before moving home to Cape Cod in 1980 where he finished high school. When he and Brian were in Santa Fe, they camped outside, learned to shoot a 22, and rode motor bikes. They made crazy music with Brian on the drums and Sean on the guitar, always singing off-key. Sean had a lion’s heart and lead Brian through a happy, free, and adventurous childhood. Brian adored him for it.
Sean went on to attend Saint Anselm College and New Hampshire College (now SNHU). Despite always making the dean’s list, he was asked to leave after spraying his dormmates with a fire extinguisher while running through the halls in his birthday suit. He married Karen Bannon Burke in 1986 and raised three daughters in Sandwich, MA. He taught each one to ski, be a proper deckhand, and—most importantly— to work hard, take risks, and enjoy life to the fullest.
In 2014, he remarried Laurie Hewitt Burke and they started a life together in Newport, RI. Laurie started to fall for Sean at a mutual friend’s dinner party. He was funny, lighthearted, and kept filling everyone’s cup with a pitcher of Margheritas as if it was his own get-together. They spent carefree nights on the town, frequenting The Clarke Cooke House, 22 Bowen’s, Perro Salado, and many more. They loved traveling together, especially to Italy and Turks and Caicos. Sean was always trying to figure out how to escape and work at the same time. He appreciated that Laurie was an excellent cook, an impeccable homemaker, a hopeless romantic, and his ultimate defender and advocate. Their love for each was constantly evident and incredibly pure. It was focused and so caring.
Sean developed an entrepreneurial spirit at a young age and was self-employed for most of his career as a builder. He owned and managed Northern Heritage Builders out of Hyannis, MA for many years. He had brief stints in Murrells Inlet, SC and in Jacksonville, FL before returning home to New England and starting anew with 42 North Builders and J2 Construct out of Newport, RI. He worked hard, slept very little at night, and was often up and out of the house by 4:00 AM. He made up for it with quick cat naps and it always made us chuckle to find him upright and eyes closed.
On the rare occasion he wasn’t working, he enjoyed Sunday morning dance parties, boating, the Boston Bruins, skiing, golfing, Guinness, espresso martinis, Yodels, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and—his all-time favorite—Twizzlers. He loved to throw a good party. Even during his near-18 years of sobriety, he was always the one making sure everyone else had a drink in their hand. Sean had an outstanding ability to live life in the present. He was the kind of guy who always ordered dessert and, when asked to slow down his fast lifestyle, would say things like, “You’ve got to live while you’re living.” He packed a lot of life into his 55 years. He genuinely cared about the happiness of others, so he would want you to do the same in his honor.
Sean is survived by his devoted wife, Laurie Burke of Newport, RI; his loving mother, Susan Ahern of Southport, NC; and his brother and sister-in-law, Brian and Stephanie Burke of Mashpee, MA. He also leaves behind his beloved in-laws, Stephanie and Dave Addeo of Morristown, NJ; Patricia Hewitt and Michael Callahan of Concord, NH; and many nieces and nephews (Max, Sydney, Lila, Nick, and Luke), all of whom brought great joy to his life. He will be deeply missed by his daughters: Kaylee Burke of East Providence, RI; Abby Burke of Sandwich, MA; and Sarah Burke of Sandwich, MA. He will also be missed by Curtis Rodrick of East Providence, RI; a number of friends who are family; as well as many family members from his previous marriage, including but not limited to Peggy Tomei Bannon of Cumberland, RI.
A private farewell will be held with close family on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Our initial instinct was to have a big celebration for Sean. Though he always said to keep his funeral small and cheap, we know he would have enjoyed one last great party. However, in light of the recent public health crisis, we are unable to mourn him in the way we would like or the way he deserves. For those who loved Sean and would like to celebrate his life, we plan to have a larger, happier, memorial when the risk of COVID-19 transmission has decreased. We will announce this shindig at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The American Heart Association, Heart Gifts Processing Center, P.O. Box 417005, Boston, MA 02241.