Southampton native Caroline Cancellieri Burk died from complications of multiple sclerosis on September 5, surrounded by her husband, six children and their families. She ws 78.
Ms. Burk was the youngest of six children born to Sicilian immigrants, Philip and Assunta Cancellieri, on October 29, 1934, in Southampton. A diminutive powerhouse, she was a natural leader at a young age, including being the captain of the Southampton High School girls field hockey team.
Shortly after graduating from Roosevelt Hospital School of Nursing in 1955, she and three other nurse graduates went on a great adventure, traveling across the country and ending up in San Francisco. At a University of California at San Francisco Newman Club social dance she was positioned in a cha-cha line across from a tall, thin Irish Oakie named Billy Joe Burk. It was love at first sight, and thus began a new chapter in her life that spanned more than 56 magnificent years.
A year after their wedding in September 1957, Mr. Burk joined the Indian Health Department of the Public Health Service and he and his new bride moved to Mount Edgecumbe, in the Territory of Alaska, to work with the Tlingit Indians of Sitka. The couple ultimately landed in Petaluma, California, where their sixth child was born, and with a partner purchased Tuttle Drug Store.
Ms. Burk’s dedication to children’s health and well-being prompted her to become the school nurse at St. Vincent Grade School, where she developed vision, hearing, dental and scoliosis screenings, and one of the earliest sex and drug education programs in Petaluma in the late 1960s.
Ms. Burk was a Scout leader for the Brownies and Junior Girl Scouts (nicknamed “Cricket” because of her loud whistle from one so tiny), as well as for the Boy Scouts. She was a passionate supporter of her children and their often crazy endeavors. Survivors said she taught them to believe in themselves, to follow their dreams, and to be kind and that she delighted in receiving a drawing, a poem or a specially chosen rock. She encouraged her children to play outside in the rain, to make mud pies and collect pollywogs. She allowed them to climb like monkeys up the narrow hallway, adorning the walls with their tiny foot and handprints, and to transform the swing set into a giant tent for days on end.
She treasured Caruso and pasta primavera with pesto and fresh cracked crab. She cherished impromptu piano playing and her husband singing “I Won’t Go Hunting with You Jake.” Survivors also said she loved kisses on her forehead, Rosy Future lipstick, her new red shoes and had a recent desire for matching red eyeglasses. She had great affection for all creatures, fuzzy, feathered or otherwise.
Survivors said Ms. Burk will be remembered as a beautiful woman, inside and out, who had a wonderful sense of humor with an ever-present smile, endless curiosity and a huge heart. She was an activist and a humanist, a lover of books and education, a supporter of equal rights for all and a believer in always doing the right thing.
Together with her cherished husband, Bill, she loved most of all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, they said.
Ms. Burk had primary progressive multiple sclerosis for more than four decades and yet it never defined her or diminished her love of life’s rich pageant, her family said. And while she was lovingly cared for by her husband and family, it was she who was their strength, their beacon, survivors said, adding that the candle she lit continues to burn bright in the hearts and memories of all who loved and knew her.
Ms. Burk is survived by her husband, Bill; her children, Teri Burk and husband Dave Myrick, Kathy (Burk) Hise and husband Ron Hise, Bill Burk and wife Patricia Burk, Mike Burk and wife Jackie Burk, Marie (Burk) McCarville and husband Bob McCarville, and Kelly Burk; her grandchildren, Forrest Mertens and wife Hannah Mertens, Josh Mertens and wife Kindra Mertens, Ian and Stella McCarville, Adelaide, Sean and Zane Burk; her great-grandchild, Aria Pepper Mertens; her extended family, (the late) Jaryl Weston, Jabari Clark, Leyla Olyaie Clark and Sativa Chambers; her siblings Grace (Cancellieri) DeJose and Americo Cancellieri and wife Barbara (“Bam”); and many nieces and nephews.
A private service was held in Petaluma. Memorial donations may be made to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, www.nationalmssociety.org.