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Coleman P. Burke

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of WHOI Life Trustee Coleman P. Burke on November 8 at his home in Bedford, NY. He was 79.

Loved for his jokes and songs, he was a hail fellow well met. He was born in Short Hills, New Jersey on April 29, 1941. His parents were Mary Poston Burke and Coleman Burke. He was a graduate of Pingry School, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, Yale University, and the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

He loved all sports, especially hockey, and many a teammate commented on his agility and sportsmanship. A standout on rinks and ponds for decades, he chased after victories and team unity with great heart.

From 1966-1969, he served in the Mekong Delta in the Vietnam War as a Communications Officer for the U.S. Navy.

Coley was a kid at heart and lived every minute of life to the fullest. He followed one of his favorite mottos every day: “work hard, play hard.” An avid fly fisherman, he fished the Snake River in Jackson Hole with his best friends annually for 50 years.

Ever fascinated with science, he devoured non-fiction books, and in the 1990s, conducted his own dinosaur-hunting forays in Patagonia. He was responsible for the exploration of a new dinosaur field in Argentina, and eventually, he discovered a new species, named Orkoraptor Burkei in his honor.

He loved all forms of music, performing banjo and piano at the Bohemian Club and with his family around the dinner table. He was a self-proclaimed foodie and delighted his kids and grandkids when announcing that his car was incapable of driving past an ice cream shop.

He and his wife Susan traveled the world and entertained New Yorkers on many an occasion, including their 35th-anniversary party which included 15-foot life-size faux dinosaurs.

In his early career, Coley practiced law for his family firm, Burke & Burke. In 1983, he left the firm to found Waterfront, NY, a commercial real estate enterprise located in the Chelsea district, before that neighborhood became fashionable. The firm, now called North River Company, has grown to nine states across the country. Coley was extremely proud of the team he built over 40 years.

A man of great faith, he loved the outdoor chapel behind his Bedford home, walking or cross-country skiing the stream-side trail through the woods. His strong belief in freedom, education, and the environment led him to serve on many boards such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, The Yale School of the Environment, The Yale Peabody Museum, The National Forest Foundation, and The National Audubon Society. In 2019, his alma mater Case Western Reserve founded the Coleman P. Burke Center for Environmental Law in his honor.

He loved mischief, loved people, and always spoke of the spirit of fellowship. Every year he mailed hundreds of birthday cards to friends and employees, all of whom will miss him dearly. He was uncommonly humble, curious and generous. He always made himself available to lend an ear, lend a hand, or hand you a punchline to one of his 1,000 jokes.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 39 wonderful years, Susan; son Erik and daughters Lisa, Sarah, and Ashley; sons-in-law Allan, Brad, and Alex; eight grandchildren; and his brother Dan and sister Missy.

He blessed us all with his unwavering love. He lived his life like he sang his songs: in full harmony. The Burke family will host a remembrance and celebration for him in New York City in 2021. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church of Bedford at P.O. Box 293, Bedford, NY, 10506 or to The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Fenno House, MS 40, Woods Hole, Mass., 02543.

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Information for this obituary is from the New York Times.