A joyful life lived

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Brother with Down syndrome enriched family; loved ones thankful for Vera Perlin's support

When Kevin Edward Burke was born in November 1954, doctors were not optimistic about his chances for survival.
“They told (his mother) to bring him home and make him comfortable, because he wasn’t going to live,” said his sister Gladys Burke.

Born with blue baby syndrome, it was later discovered he carried an extra chromosome resulting in Down syndrome.

Last month, Kevin died at the age of 59. According to Gladys, his presence in the family was essential to its special sense of camaraderie, and she credits a local St. John’s organization for enriching his later years.

“I feel that we’re all here for a reason,” she told The Telegram. “Some of us find it. Some of us don’t. I think Kevin’s main reason for being put on this Earth is because of the love and joy of life that he (shared) every day of his life.”

Kevin, the seventh of eight children born to Michael and Helen Burke of Mount Arlington Heights in Placentia Bay, proved to be a strong personality from the get go. Gladys remembers him being a sweet little boy who was loved all the more for defying medical odds.

“I didn’t know there was anything wrong with my brother, if you want to call ‘something wrong’ having an extra chromosome. We just saw him as one of us.”

Kevin was a bit of a performer at heart. He enjoyed strumming guitars and playing the harmonica, and he loved dancing with women and letting loose for lip syncs. According to Gladys, Kevin was friends with everyone in Long Harbour during the years he lived in the community.

“He was everyone’s friend, and the whole community took care of him, so he was always safe.”

He could perform push ups with one hand and loved bowling and wrestling. Although Kevin did not learn to read, he could spend hours looking at magazines. When he spoke, the words amounted to a language all of its own, but his family understood him.

“My name was ‘Das,’” explained Gladys. “Everybody had a name, all the sisters and brothers.”

At social gatherings, Kevin was quick to shake the hands of strangers and friends alike.

“He had an unbelievable capability to love people and to care about people regardless of who they were,” said Gladys Burke.

 

Extra help from Vera Perlin

As his mother aged, it became too hard for Kevin to continue living with her. In the early 1990s, he moved in with Gladys and split time between her family’s home and that of his sister Mollie’s, which was located on the same St. John’s street.

Not long after moving to St. John’s, he became a client of the Vera Perlin Society, a charitable organization serving people with development disabilities. It offers career development opportunities and helps clients become a part of the community.

“We are so grateful for them,” said Gladys, noting over $1,000 was raised for the organization in Kevin’s name following his death. “What would we have done? None of us were in a position to be able to take care of him. I was a full-time teacher, I had three children of my own, I hired someone to take care of my children while I was at work. I couldn’t do anything. Everybody had their own lives.”

Although he did not train for a career of any sort, Kevin took a bus to the Perlin Centre everyday for outings, parties, sports and other activities. He made crafts, helped with farming and made friends.

Kevin lived in Torbay with Pauline and Will Mouland for several years and was later cared for by Paul and Beverly McFadyen of St. John’s up until his death.

“Without these people, Kevin would have died a long time ago,” said Gladys. “They loved him like he was a brother.”

Kevin developed dementia a year and half ago and his health started to deteriorate (on average, people with Down syndrome live until 55). He had otherwise been healthy throughout his life, despite the fact Kevin loved smoking cigarettes.

All seven of his siblings were home last November to celebrate what would be Kevin’s final birthday.

“When I look at the love Kevin has brought to our lives — we are seven siblings. We don’t fight. We don’t argue. We accept each other as we are,” said Gladys. “It’s amazing. No conflict in our family whatsoever. We think that’s why — because he showed us another wa.y ... Everyone you meet who has someone in the family with Down syndrome, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

 

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: The Telegram, Vera Perlin Society, Perlin Centre

Geographic location: Placentia Bay, Long Harbour, Torbay

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Sheila Strong
    May 28, 2014 - 11:22

    I am so sorry for the Family's loss. I glad that the Vera Perlin Society were able to help this family,they are a wonderful Society.

  • Sheila Strong
    May 28, 2014 - 11:21

    I am so sorry for the Family's loss. I glad that the Vera Perlin Society were able to help this family,they are a wonderful Society.

  • Gladys Kobryn
    May 27, 2014 - 13:24

    I never new Kevin personally, but am good friends with his sister Eunice. I can see by the loving way she is that not only does Kevin touch hearts she as well does too:) I know she misses Kevin and will always treasure the years they had . What a beautiful tribute to Kevin.

  • Roy Murphy
    May 27, 2014 - 09:27

    Beautiful True Heart Touching Story! Roy Murphy.

  • the mcfadyen family
    May 26, 2014 - 21:25

    Kevin was an exceptional person.we were honored to have the plesasure of caring for him in our home. He brought us great joy and taught us how to love and to be loved. He may not be with us but his presence certainly is. He has left an Imprint on our souls.

  • Nancy Anne
    May 26, 2014 - 20:34

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story about a truly amazing person. It's such a blessing to have had Kevin in your life, to those that knew him and to those, like myself, just now knowing who he is and what a blessing he was to his family and friends. When we read the Telegram or listen to the news in any way, it's finally, so good to hear a story like Kevin's. I also had a special person in my life similar like Kevin, although he lived a very short life, once you knew him you would never forget him, he was such a blessing and he was a big part of my life cause he was my son. Everyone who knew him, would never forget him cause in some way he touched there life. Kevin's life reminded me so much of my son. My condolences to you and your family. May God give you the strength you need right now and days and months to come. No doubt Kevin's life will never be forgotten. It was truly a blessing and a breath of fresh air to read about Kevin's life. R.I.P. Kevin.

  • Margaret Howlett
    May 26, 2014 - 15:01

    May he rest in peace. So many people gave Kevin a loving and fulfilling life and I am sure he is an angel looking down on you all, surely nice to see that there are compassionate people in this world that accept others as they are and give what they have to make them happy. God bless.

  • Cecilia Power
    May 26, 2014 - 13:42

    Beautiful story about a beautiful person, R.I.P. Kevin ....

  • Steve Webb
    May 26, 2014 - 11:54

    It was my pleasure to know Kevin and to have him as a friend. R.I.P. my friend.

  • Steve Webb
    May 26, 2014 - 11:47

    It was my pleasure to know Kevin and to have him as a friend. R.I.P. my friend.

  • Eunice McCarthy
    May 26, 2014 - 11:09

    What a beautiful story about my darling brother. I live in Alberta and googled the telegram this morning and when I saw his picture it made my day. We are so lucky that God choose us to be Kevin's family as he brought us so much joy. He called me MOOSEY and I will treasure the name forever.

  • diane slade
    May 26, 2014 - 10:26

    Kevin, what a beautiful person you are and what a beautiful life you lived....because you are so awesome God needed you in heaven to help other up there..Bless you

  • Anna
    May 26, 2014 - 09:23

    What a lovely story about Kevin. The Vera Perlin Centre is indeed wonderful in what they accomplish with these children and adults and the staff there are to be commended. My brother, Terry availed of the services and is now 50. You are so correct in saying about they joy they bring to their families and others.

  • Anna
    May 26, 2014 - 09:21

    What a lovely story about Kevin. The Vera Perlin Centre is indeed wonderful in what they accomplish with these children and adults and the staff there are to be commended. My brother, Terry availed of the services and is now 50. You are so correct in saying about they joy they bring to their families and others.

  • Nina
    May 26, 2014 - 08:42

    Reading this article made me smile and tear up as well, I remember Kevin , who was a neighbor of my late husband Joe Bennett , every Sunday when we visited Long Harbour Kevin was always sure to drop by, We so enjoyed his visits .

  • Brenda
    May 26, 2014 - 08:39

    such a beautiful story

  • Janet Kovich
    May 26, 2014 - 07:55

    You story is so much like our family's. Dougie was my uncle and he lived with my mother and I until he passed in 2009 at the age of 61. Joyful. That word describes him perfectly. They had a lot of the same interests and it makes me smile to think that you were blessed as we were.

  • Mary Adams
    May 26, 2014 - 07:49

    God Bless him..Downs children are really special, they touch my heart especially when I see them in special Olympics. My friend had a brother who was cared for by siblings after his mom passed, they had so much love for him. I can sense the same love here.

  • Harvey
    May 26, 2014 - 07:48

    What a beautiful story....what a loving family!!T

  • Amanda McFadyen
    May 26, 2014 - 07:22

    Thank you so much for taking an interest in Kevins life. He was truly an amazing person who brightened up our lives everyday.