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Lawmakers eulogize Dem staffer

Lawmakers and aides — past and present — gathered on Capitol Hill Thursday to eulogize George Burke, a long-time staffer to Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyIRS closes in on final phase of challenging tax season Virginia voter registration website back up after outage on last day to register Judge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes MORE (D-Va.) who passed away last weekend.

Burke, 64, was remembered as a fun-loving fixture in Democratic politics who was quick to flash a smile, lend a hand to colleagues and provide mentorship to countless aides generations younger than himself.

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“He loved interacting with everybody … [and] mentoring younger staff was really a part of his mission in life,” Connolly told the somber crowd gathered in front of the Rayburn House Office Building. “He did it well. He cared about who you were, and passing on wisdom and knowledge and experience so you too could shine and be successful. And [he was] never too busy not to hear your concerns.”

Former-Rep. James Moran, another Virginia Democrat who retired in January, painted a similar portrait, recalling Burke as a Capitol Hill fixture with a “broad smile” and embracing personality,” who was among “the defining elements of Northern Virginia politics.”

“George Burke loved politic because he liked people. And you could feel that, Moran said. “He never let on what he was going through, and he didn't give in to pain or distraction in his purpose.”

Born in the Bronx and relocating to New Hampshire, Burke was an award-winning journalist before he moved to Northern Virginia in the late 1970s and shifted his focus to partisan politics. It was a role, colleagues said, that fit him well.

“He loved the mechanics of politics, and in many ways the more in the weeds, the smaller the scale, the better,” Connolly said. “He loved the gossip; he loved the intrigue; he loved fixing things; he loved the victories.” 

In the 1980s, Burke served as communications director for former Reps. Norman D’Amours (D-N.H.) and James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) before leaving Capitol Hill to head the communications team for the International Association of Fire Fighters, a union boasting more than 300,000 members.

In 2005, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Committee for Virginia's 11th district, and he returned to Congress in 2009 to join Connolly's office as communications director. He remained in both roles until succumbing to cancer Saturday after a years-long fight against the disease.

“If he were here now at your memorial, he'd be over there smoking,” Connolly quipped.

Connolly recalled the drives the pair would take to Richmond when Burke would make a point to stop in a certain Ashland gas station because they offered free oil filters. ("He was happy for a week," Connolly said). 

There were other quirks, like Burke's penchant for taking things literally — a fancy Connolly would sometimes exploit.

“Periodically, I'd go in to George and pretend to be angry at somebody like, I don't know, Nancy Pelosi," Connolly recalled. “And I would say with a straight face, 'I'm going in to [see] Nancy Pelosi and I'm telling her, I don't care, she needs to straighten up and learn right.’

“And his eyes would get big. … [And he'd say], 'You can't do that, you can't say that.’ … And then I'd go, 'Well, if you think I can't do it, alright.' He always took the bait.

“George loved the little things in life,” Connolly added. “He really added to this place, and it was a privilege to know him.”