Cyclist, surgeon's life celebrated at his funeral

Matthew Burke praises as surgeon, father, friend

By all accounts, Matthew Burke was at the "peak of his powers" in 2010.


His surgery patients at Fort Gordon appreciated his compassionate bedside manner and his superiors relied on his rock solid judgment.

He kept his mind sharp with constant reading and his body fit by starting every day with a set of push ups.

His goal of marrying a nurse was met through his wife, Bonnie, and together they fulfilled his other dream of having a daughter, Anna Ryan.

Burke, a U.S. Army major, always welcomed a challenge and he was training at the end of last year to compete in a triathalon. He was hit by an SUV on Oct. 1 during a group bicycle ride in Beech Island and sustained critical injuries from which he died last Sunday.

At his funeral Saturday, the Rev. Sid A. Gates lamented the "tragic and untimely death" of Burke.

"Our very core screams 'Why?' 'Why?' " he said.

Nearly 200 people packed the sanctuary of St. Mary on the Hill, from fellow officers in crisp uniforms to family and cyclists who rode with Burke. The solemn ceremony of nearly two hours was spent reminiscing about the man they loved and finding some comfort in Scripture.

The Rev. Robert L. Keane, better known in the Burke family as "Uncle Bob," directed the service and provided some lighthearted memories of his nephew.

He told the congregation four things they might not know about Burke, including his first choice of profession over medicine.

"When I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up," Keane recalled, "He replied with all the sincerity a 6-year-old can muster: 'a fire truck.' "

He also spoke about Burke's taste for the "nicer things" in life, that started at an early age. He carefully chose his clothes as a teenager to the point Keane called him "Mr. GQ."

Burke's desire to become a doctor led him to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., where he majored in physics and studied pre-med. Burke wasn't accepted into his medical school of choice after graduation, so he returned home to Salt Lake City, Utah, and later moved to Dallas, Texas, where he worked in medical laboratories and pursued his studies to improve his resume.

"Matt was always convinced he would make a fine physician, no matter the labor and time it would take," Keane said.

His chance finally came through an application at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md. Burke wanted to follow Keane's path in the U.S. Navy, but there were no commissions available in that branch.

When asked for advice, Keane swallowed his Navy pride and told his nephew to not miss out on such a great opportunity and to take a commission with the U.S. Army.

Keane said Saturday that he has loved the Army even more in the past four months for the care and devotion Burke received from the staff at Eisenhower Army Medical Center.

"The care they've given him has been nothing short of extravagant," Keane said, his voice choking. " 'Army strong' will always have a special meaning in our hearts."

Brig. Gen. W. Bryan Gamble, the hospital's commanding officer and Burke's superior, showered Burke with praise, calling him a "natural born leader.

"His skill as a surgeon was to be emulated," said Gamble, who personally benefitted from a knee surgery by Burke.

Gamble later presented Bonnie Burke with medals of commendation and meritorious service for her late husband.

Paul Burke closed the ceremony talking about all the ways his brother lived well.

He was fearless, from his "powerful and graceful" skiing down black diamond slopes to the long bicycle races he tackled, Paul Burke said.

He was so proud to show off his daughter at the last big family get-together on Labor Day and deeply devoted to his wife, he said.

At that same reunion he took the family out on his powerboat and taught everyone how to wake board. There was a peaceful moment toward sunset that day when his brother jumped out of the boat, swam over to Bonnie and "looked at the love of his life with wonder," Paul Burke said.

He paused to collect himself, then continued: "I'm so profoundly grateful that Matt lived well."

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