When Harvey Leonard Burke Sr. died last month, a large chunk of local history went with him. Burke, 79, of Centreville, was born in Clifton and spent his entire life in the Centreville/Clifton area.
In fact, his greatgrandmother was Mary Taylor Burke, who lived near the corner of Union Mill and Braddock roads during the Civil War. And her son Thomas fought with Col. John S. Mosby in the Virginia Cavalry.
"Leonard" Burke, as he liked to be called, was the middle of seven children and was a wealth of information about the local area. Just ask Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully).
"I USED TO listen to his stories for hours," said Frey. "He was one of the few, remaining residents who remembered Centreville as a sleepy, little rural crossroads."
In Burke's younger days, he worked on the Ivakota farm in Clifton, and he shared some of his memories with the supervisor. "He told me that, after working all week, on Friday nights, he and the other boys would jump into a nearby stream for their bath," said Frey. "Then they'd walk to Manassas to go to the movies."
Leonard and his wife Dorothy met in October 1945 at the Social Circle, a local social club. She liked his looks and the two hit it off; they married in August 1946 in Washington, D.C. "They were a wonderful couple — they were meant to be together," said Frey. "It's people like that who make my job fun."
For 30 years, Leonard owned and operated a trucking firm based out of their home in Centreville, and Dorothy admired his achievements because nothing was ever handed to him. "He came up without anything — no opportunities — and made his way," she said.
They raised three children and liked taking them on fishing trips and to Disneyworld. Leonard was also Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 893 of Centreville.
Another longtime resident, Claudette Ward, had sons in his troop and is also a cousin of his. "He was a nice man and a good friend," she said. "I liked him a lot. I was very sorry to hear of his death."
He died Dec. 21 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He'd had various health problems, but died when an aneurism burst in his chest. Funeral services were Dec. 27 at the Baker Funeral Home Chapel in Manassas, with the Rev. David Penman officiating. Burke was buried in the Clifton Cemetery next to his parents, John and Ruth Burke. He'd served in the Army, and the military played "Taps" at his funeral.
However, he lived a full life with his wife and children and had nine grandchildren and nine greatgrandchildren. Said Dorothy: "They loved him and he was good to them."
THE COUPLE lived on Ordway Road in Centreville for 49 years, as well as 10 years along Stringfellow Road. Leonard retired in the late 1980s and, two years ago, he and Dorothy moved into Forest Glen in Sully Station.
Before then, Leonard enjoyed hunting and fishing, as well as traveling to Florida and Arizona with Dorothy during vacations in their motor home. Calling him "just a wonderful guy," Frey said he got to know Leonard in the late 1980s when his community was trying to get sewer service.
"I was able to get it resolved for them and get them sewer, and we became friends," he said. "He was a real pleasant-mannered guy, always in a good mood. He was upbeat and always had a joke. I saw him last spring at the open house for the [Sully District] police station. And even with his health problems, he never lost his rosy outlook." Sadly, added Frey, "You hate to lose the foundations of your community."
Besides his wife, Leonard is survived by son H. Leonard Burke Jr. and wife Paula of Wintergreen, Fla.; son Wayne Burke and wife Linda of Stafford; daughter Lynnette Myers and husband Craig of Birdsboro, Pa.; and sister Myrtle Burke, 88, of Manassas. His only other living sibling, his brother Roger of Casanova, Va., died three weeks after he did.
Leonard and Dorothy were married 59 1/2 years and, she said, "I was hoping we'd make it to 60 in August." She said the aneurism was a surprise but, before then, "His chest hurt him and he was having trouble breathing."
He was in the hospital for five days before his death, and all his children and grandchildren were with him. Devastated by his loss, his wife says she copes by just taking one day at a time. "It's God's will," she said. "But I don't have to like it."
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting people wanting to make memorial contributions to do so to the charity of their choice.