By Tony Martin
Jim Burke, former Lib Dem Councillor for Dunfermline North and local Party Convenor, sadly passed away after a battle with Cancer. Jim made his mark on many of us involved with the Dunfermline Liberal Democrats, and below is part of Jim’s Eulogy by Tony Martin.
I met Jim in 1994. A colleague of mine knocked on Jim’s door canvassing in the Fife Regional Council elections and asked if Jim would vote for me. Not only will I vote for him he said, but I want to join the Party. My friend told him I would be in touch. Two weeks later at the polling station Jim approached me and said “I thought you were going to visit and sign me up.” Well I had been busy knocking on doors. I wasn’t confident of winning. “If you had come round I would have helped,” he said. Two weeks later when I did knock on his door, he said, “Where have you been? I suppose you better come in.”
Since that day we have been friends. At the Local Party AGM later that year Jim joined the Executive Committee and year later he was Chair of the local party. Jim was a man of extraordinary ability. He showed it in everything he did. It was not lost on the Liberal Democrats and for 20 years he played an important part in the success of our local Party. Working hard in every election. Helping Willie Rennie and Jim Tolson to be elected to Parliaments. Knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, putting up boards. He was Chair of the party several times over the years, as well as Treasurer and Secretary. He was attended every social event. He loved to read Burns at our Burns evenings. A master of the barbecue every year, his barbecued pineapple was legendary. At every meeting held in his house, Jim baked a cake – an excellent cake! Attendance was always good, not perhaps because of enthusiasm for what was on the agenda, but as a recognition of excellent baking.
He was also a powerful support when things were going badly. Never wavering in his belief in the Liberal cause. Never giving up. Another of his admirably qualities.
When Jim joined the coal board it was on the same day as Jim Whyte, someone who remained a friend ( indeed he was Jim’s best man) for the rest of Jim’s life. When we were an hospital during Jim’s final days, Jim Whyte said to me, “Jim was quickly recognised at being very clever and really good at the job. He was quickly marked out for further training and promotion. After he came back to the pits from the merchant navy he was quickly promoted to a manager.”
In the Merchant Navy, Jim was a very young Electrical Engineering Officer. The ship he served on was one of several built during the war to run freight, mostly fruit and vegetables, from South Africa to Britain quickly, outrunning U-Boats and German destroyers. The ship was light, fast, cheaply built, poorly constructed and very unstable. However they were still in use in the 1960s when Jim joined up.
One night in the Atlantic they hit a very strong storm. The ship was tossed and turned. The power line to the engine room was lost. The captain told Jim he would have to run a new cable from the bridge to Engine Room. Jim had to lash himself to the railings and with a seaman faced driving winds and rain until, after several hours, they made good the connection. There was a deck cargo of fruit on board. A young officer went out to inspect the cargo and came back shouting above the wind. “Captain I think the cargo is going to break loose. What shall I do?” “Well I would get out of the bloody way son if I were you,” replied the captain. Although he didn’t say bloody, I asked Jim what happened. Nothing, he said. The Officer was panicking. “So you saved the ship Jim”, I said. “No” he said, “the Captain saved the ship. I just did what I was told.” I think Jim was being modest.
When Jim was at the carpet factory he didn’t really like it. He thought the senior electrician was incompetent. The factory was being equipped with new machinery and this meant increasing the electrical capacity. The two other electricians, both older than Jim, didn’t now how to do the drawings and manage the project. Jim was asked if he could do it. “Yes”, he said, “but I want a rise.” “We can’t do that,” was the response, “you are the junior.” “Well that fine,” said Jim. Next day he applied to rejoin the coal board.
In 2007, after a very successful career Jim stood as a candidate for the Council. He was elected and proved an excellent Councillor. Working hard for his constituents, playing an important role in our group and being well respected across the political divide. Jim chaired the Appeals Panel and the Planning Appeals Committee. He was Vice-Chair of the Regulation Committee. He soon gained a reputation for thoughtfully coming to fair and well considered decisions.
Jim enjoyed helping his constituents and solving their problems. He had carried out a significant amount of work for an elderly gentleman. Sitting at home he received a call form the hospital.
“We have a patient here who needs a heart bypass. He won’t sign the consent form unless Councillor Burke says its OK. Would you speak to him. He is really not well.” “You silly old fool,” said Jim, “sign the form!” Jim visited him in hospital and often when he returned home.
Although not a demonstrative man Jim was a very kind person.
When a colleague Cllr Dave Herbert was very ill, coming to the end of his time and not finding that easy, Jim visited him frequently – taking him out for walks, going out for coffee and importantly talking to him. Dave’s stroke was making him frustrated in not being able to communicate as he wanted. Jim was patient, kind and there for Dave right up until the end.
Jim was a keen traveler. With Norma he loved to go to Lake Garda, “a paradise on earth” he said. He also liked river cruises on the European rivers. Always enthusiastic when he returned. Telling you about it and wanting you to share his pleasure
Jim faced up to his health issues in a very stoic way. His failing eyesight meant had to stop driving. That didn’t stop him doing things, for himself, the party and his family and friends. He got on with it. Without complaining. Still making an effort. An example to us all.
When he was diagnosed as terminally ill, he was so strong it was truly amazing. His concern was not for himself but for Norma and his daughters Alison and Lesley. He told me the bad news in late April last year, but didn’t tell his daughters until after Alison’s wedding so as not to spoil it for her. He so enjoyed the wedding, showing me all the photos. He daughters happiness and Norma’s comfort was his main concern during his final illness.
When I asked how Norma, Alison and Lesley were coping, he said “Their fine. They have been supporting me at all the difficult times. Do you know Tony that I have the best daughters in the world?” “No you haven’t,” I said, referring to mine. “Ok,” he said, “but you have to admit mine have the better Father!”
When I told a mutual friend of ours, Teresa Little, that Jim’s illness was terminal, being a committed Catholic and believing in the power of prayer, Teresa’s immediate reaction was to say she would pray for him. The next week I visited Jim and told him of how friends had reacted to the bad news. I said to him, “Teresa said she will pray for you. However I told her you are an atheist therefore it may be against your principles.” The conversation moved on but later Jim said to me “Tony I wish you hadn’t done that.” “What?” I replied. “When you told Teresa not to pray for me. After all God doesn’t know I am an atheist does he?” He was laughing at me.