Dr. Dennis Burke maps his road to BID Milton

Surgeon Dennis Burke with his wife Martha. BID/Milton photos by John Gillooly

The South Boston-born orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dennis Burke was honored by Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton (BID Milton) in October at a fundraising dinner at the JFK Library in Dorchester. The event raised $550,000 for capital projects at the hospital.

In his remarks, Dr. Burke said, “I look out into this room tonight and see so many patients who have become my friends and so many friends who have become my patients. For all those who have trusted their care to me, I thank you for that honor and privilege.

“I see the men and woman in this room, who ignored great peril to their own safety, and toiled tirelessly over the long winter of Covid 19 so that patients always received the best care. I can feel the spirit of my friend Dr. John Mahoney in this room, a devoted neurologist, who was one of the first casualties of Covid 19. Look around the room, dim the ligts, squint a little bit, you can see the halos above our many angels here. You are my heroes. I am honored and humbled to work with each and every one of you. I accept the Charles Winchester award in your name.”

The honoree used the opportunity to sketch out how his life had progressed to BID-Milton’s surgical ward. Following are excerpts from that accounting.

“I look in front of me, and I see my family. My wife Martha who I first met over 50 years ago just a few blocks from this library. It was love at first sight and the luckiest day of my life. I see my 5 children who make me so proud. Forgive me for the many late dinners, missed birthdays, cancelled holidays and so many of my other foibles – and there were some doozies!

“The Kennedy Presidential Library is a special place for me. From its perch my entire life unfolds by line of sight. One and a half miles to the west is Saint Margaret’s Hospital. That’s where I was born as were my 4 sibs and my 5 children. After a 60-hour shift during my surgical internship, I finally arrived to see my newly born son. Martha burst into tears, exclaiming that the nurses thought that she was an unwed mother.

“One mile north, just across Dorchester Bay I see my boyhood home–- my Irish grandmother and two aunts downstairs, the seven of us upstairs. It was a home full of happiness, love, and generosity. This is a scene repeated in every neighborhood of this great city today – people from foreign lands seeking opportunity in these United States.

“My dad was the proprietor of a neighborhood drug store. It was in a section of town called “The Lower End.” To this day I see patients who tell me that whether they had the means to pay or not, they never left the store without their medicines. They would say that “Mr. Burke put it on the cuff.”  He and my mother, by example, taught me the Golden Rule – treat others as you wish to be treated. In my opinion, that is the essence of the practice of medicine. …

“I can see my neighborhood parish school from here, Saint Peter’s. The kind nuns and priests had 3 main objectives in educating me; 1) Teach me the Palmer method of penmanship, 2) Have me memorize the Latin Mass so that I could become an altar boy, and 3) Learn the 10 Commandments. The first two I failed at utterly, the last is still a work in progress...

“Just across the Charles River I see MIT where I learned 2 important lessons. First, humility – It seemed everyone there was smarter than me. Second - average and hard work beats an uninspired genius every day of the week. Then it was off to Med School in the windy city and back to Boston where towers of the great Boston Teaching Hospitals cast a long shadow.