Attention Fraternal Leaders: Find New Tools and Resources in the WebFez Library. Visit Library

Imperial Sir Richard Burke

Imperial Sir Richard Burke

Meet Richard Burke, Imperial Potentate, Shriners International 2024-2025.
View Transcript

Matt Varnell, Son:

It doesn't get much better than Richard Burke. He's one of the most solid individuals you'll ever come across. Just kind heart, always there for you if you're in a time of need. It's hard to put it into just a couple of words. I mean, he's special.

Timothy Hanofee, Friend:

He likes people. He likes to help people. He likes to be around people. He likes to contribute in positive ways to their life.

Carrie McCall, Daughter:

There's a lot of words to describe him, but caring and loving and giving.

Adam McCall, Son in Law:

He's always treated me like a son. He's always been like a dad. Very compassionate, very forth giving as far as advising, helping any of us and things like that, and always wants us to know that we're doing well and succeeding and just really, really cares about the family very much.

Leah Varnell, Daughter in Law:

Family is everything to Judy and Rich. They are so, so involved and they love their grandkids so much, and their kids, and they would do anything for us. Anything.

Trey McCall, Grandson:

My grandparents, they always, they'll do anything for us and our family and people that they care about and they're just great people and that they ensure that everyone is successful.

Kylie McCammon, Granddaughter:

They're always really supportive of everyone. They've always went to my tennis matches in high school. Throughout college they'll text me and make sure I'm doing good and I know if I need anything they're the first people I would call.

Inez Crook, Mother in Law:

This family is very close and we've always been close. I don't know of any other reason but love. I have never heard him raise his voice to anybody, and he always thinks of me, and I have no greater son-in-law, so I just love him.

Richard Burke, Imperial Potentate:

I grew up in upstate New York, in Endicott, New York, and it was a great place to grow up. I mean, it was a small town of about 20,000. Everybody knew each other and all the relatives lived very close to each other. My parents were the best parents you could ever want. And my brother, we had a fantastic family. I couldn't have asked for a better childhood.

Jim Burke, Brother:

We were always extremely close, even though there was that age difference, I think it was just our family. Our family was, it was so tight and we all respected each other and it wasn't just the four of us, it was our relatives. We all lived very close to each other.

Richard Burke:

Family is very important to me. We have a very close-knit family. Uncles, aunts, a lot of them are gone and I miss them. And we did a lot together. Sunday was the day we went to the lake, we all went to the lake and had a good day together. It was a day back then when stores were closed on a Sunday, and I think they still should be because what else did you have to do except spend quality family time.

Before Shriners my friends were the most important part of my life, especially my brother and we did everything together. But there was one thing that was always incomplete. I couldn't find the right woman. They would get together, they'd be in couples, and I wouldn't necessarily have someone until I met Judy.

Judy Burke, First Lady:

Richard and I have three children and we have eight grandchildren, and we feel like they are the most special kids in the world. We're proud of our children, we're proud of our grandchildren, and God has blessed us tremendously with what we have.

Shelly McCammon, Daughter:

When he married my mom, I was older. I was older, but he just fit right in and he really became my dad at that point and he bought in a hundred percent to the family unit, and it was just like he just fit right into us. And from that point forward, when I started having kids, he was their papa.

Bailey McCammon, Granddaughter:

My immediate family, we're very, very close, as well. And we're really close with my nana and papa too. I know a lot of other families don't have that luxury, so it's really nice that we all grew up like that together.

Taytum McCall, Granddaughter:

They're just loving. I remember all the times when we were younger when Papa used to dress up in the Santa Claus outfit and just tried to make us believe everything, and Nana also went along with it and it was just the best childhood ever, and they just made it even better than anyone could imagine.

Eli Varnell, Grandson:

They're amazing. They are the most kind caring people ever, and they really make such an effort to bring our entire family together, which is awesome. They're like the rocks of everyone.

Wyles McCammon, Grandson:

I have very supportive grandparents. Since I was little I've played football, always been there, always been at my games.

Thomas McCall, Grandson:

I think other people can tell how much they care about what they're doing and just think they bring a light to the Shriners as well with their personalities and their love.

Judy Burke:

I do have another grandchild and her name is Leah. I still count her today, but unfortunately she's not with us.

Shelly McCammon:

So, my mom, Judy kept both of my daughters Bailey and Leah at the time. And I worked with Papa Richard, and we worked down in Dunwoody, which was about 35 minutes or 45 minutes from the house.

Richard Burke:

I was sitting in my office, doing my work and I got a strange phone call from our daughter, not the one that worked for us, but our daughter, Carrie. She said, "Have you talked to mom?" I said, "No." I said, it was weird. The phone rang, but then somebody hung up. I said, "So what's going on?" She said, "I don't know, something's wrong." So I tried to call home. I couldn't get her. And then finally we spoke and told me that there had been a major accident.

Judy Burke:

So Bailey was watching something on TV, I can't remember. She was about three. And so I was like, okay, well, I'm going to go put Leah in the tub and then I'll come back and get you Bailey. You can finish watching your show, whatever, and I will go put Leah in the tub. Well, I go in the bathroom and I thought to myself, well, I'm not going to put any water in there because she could sit, she stand, she could do all that, but I thought, well, I'm not going to put any water in there because I don't want her to drown. But she was always a little into things, always a little bit inquisitive. I left to go get Bailey and then my phone rings and I grabbed my phone and it was my daughter Carrie who had just had a baby. And I said, "I've got to go back to the bathroom because Leah's in the tub."

So I start walking. We had a huge house, I would say when I turned the corner to go into the bathroom, it was probably 10 feet or more, and I saw the water full blast, and all I could think of was, gosh, I hope she hasn't drowned. Well, when I walked in, I saw her head and I thought, great, she's fine. And then I looked and she was red, and I was like, well, she's turned the hot water on. I didn't think that much about it because I didn't realize that water could do that.

Richard Burke:

So I went in and I got Shelley, Leah's mom, and we jumped in the car and we were trying to comprehend what was going on and so forth.

Shelly McCammon:

I sat in the floorboard. 'Cos I knew it was bad, and I just sat there and almost beat my hands on the seat and he drove me.

Judy Burke:

And they took her. They had helicopter come to the air pad at the lake by our house, and they air-flighted her down to Grady.

Richard Burke:

It was pretty chaotic when we got to the house. I remember a sheriff came out. He said, "Do you realize that your hot water is 128 degrees?" And I said, "Is that hot?" I never, never thought about it, ever. And it was set too high by someone, and we had just moved into this house three months before. It was our dream house.

Shelly McCammon:

And my mom is just distraught. And I look at my mom and I said, "This isn't your fault. It's okay. We're going to figure it out." And she said, "I just didn't know what ... I left her for just a second." And I said, "It's okay. It's not a big deal. We're going to figure it out." So we drive down to Grady and we get there, and Grady is a Trauma Center in Atlanta. And I walk in the room and she's mummied up with just gauze all over her, just rolled up and they tell me, they're like, "Oh, she has second degree burns over 80% of her body." And I said, "Okay." 'Cos that didn't sound that bad. I was 28. I didn't know. And then my Aunt, Wanda, who's my mom's sister, came to the hospital and she's like, "She can't be here. She got to go to a Shriners hospital."

Judy Burke:

The jet was there to pick her up and they air flighted her to Cincinnati, which to me was amazing, number one. I mean, that Shriners sent a jet to pick her up.

Shelly McCammon:

And we probably get there at 2:00 AM. I don't really remember the time exactly, but it was late. And we get off and they have a family counselor waiting on me, sitting there waiting on me, to just help.

Richard Burke:

We were told that it was a little bit worse than they had said, and that her chance of survival was 50%.

Judy Burke:

We stayed there for four days with her. I just can't even begin to tell you how amazing these people were at that hospital, and it was an experience like no other. Like no other.

Shelly McCammon:

So they went through all these procedures with us, and as I'm at this hospital, I'm looking around going, "This is the craziest thing I've ever seen." I watched these men in these hats drive these families who had no money back and forth to the hospital, and I was like, "What is this?" They were not getting paid. It was just volunteer. So these moms can see their babies that had been in that hospital for four and five months, and I was overwhelmed with, this is the most selfless thing I've ever seen in my life, and these people are amazing.

Richard Burke:

So we were there for three days and then an infection set in, and it was quite devastating.

Shelly McCammon:

They came and got us and they were like, "Her organs are shutting down, so if you want to come in here, it's not going to be long. Do you want to hold her?" I said, "Oh, yeah, I'll hold her." So we went in there and the entire staff at the hospital came in that room and locked hands around the entire hospital room and stood there with me and her dad, David. I held her body, he had her feet, and I was singing the song I always sang to her when she went to sleep. And while I was holding her with probably 50 plus people in that room, she passed away in my arms.

I will never forget walking out into the hall, and my mom was standing at the end with Papa and she knew, and I said, "She's gone." She just fell out on the ground. She felt so bad and so guilty, and I was like, "It's not your fault. Anybody, could happen to anybody." And I was never upset at her. Not one time, nothing, ever.

Judy Burke:

The part the Shriners Children's did for us then, I just can't even tell you. We had a counselor for our family the entire time. All we had to do was just call out to her and she was there. Where do you get that? Nowhere do you get that. It's the most amazing care anywhere. It really, really is. And I hate that I learned that that way, but it made all the difference in the world in my life.

Richard Burke:

Judy, it took her about a year and a half to really come around. She was suffering very much from depression and guilt, and my number one mission was to keep our family together.

Shelly McCammon:

She passed away on March 17th and her birthday was on March 19th, so she passed two days before her first birthday.

From that point on, something in Richard, Papa, changed. He saw a selfless service that those people were giving. We came home and he started going into The Shrine.

Richard Burke:

I took it upon myself to figure out what Masonry was all about. So I came back to Atlanta and started visiting The Lodge.

Gary "Shoofly" Lewis, Friend:

I've known Richard for just over 20 years. He and I joined The Shrine on the same night. Richard, like I said, came into The Shrine and immediately went through his club, served as president, and then got on the dive van. Typically, that's something somebody has waited 10, 15, 20 years before they run. Richard's moved along very quickly because he's driven and he's hardworking.

Richard Burke:

Judy and I are both always driven by what we can do for Leah. She doesn't want Leah's memory to be nothing.

Dennis Hewitt, Friend:

Obviously at the heart and the passion of what Shriners do is Shriners Hospitals for Children. It's what brought Richard into the fraternity. It was a key part of why he became a Shriner and gained that passion for the hospitals.

Phil Binkow, Business Partner:

I've known Richard for over 30 years, and Richard is a loyal and good friend, and he's also a very smart person. I'm proud as a friend. I'm proud as a partner. I'm proud as a person who's in business with him. For us to say that Richard is in this position makes us look good, as a company actually.

Jim Burke:

As Imperial Point and Tate Rich is definitely going to run the organization like his own business. He'll back you to the hilt, if you're right, he'll counsel you if you're wrong, but he will give you every benefit of the doubt, but he will get done what he wants to get done.

Gary "Shoofly" Lewis:

People will see that no matter what, Richard is going to be, I don't know where he finds all the hours in the day. I think his calendar's a little different than mine. I think he might have an extra day or two in the week, or at least 30 hours on his clock, but he'll be working hard.

Timothy Hanofee:

Richard sees the whole picture. You can see that he gets things, he gets perspective on life and on challenges. He just is a really, really centered human being who puts his own personal goals, I think, at times, aside and wants to do for the benefit of all those around him. How he got into the Shriners to begin with is a remarkable story in and of itself. It was something that just, he had a calling and he did everything he possibly could to help the Shriners, all the children that the Shriners help. In my mind, he's just done a tremendous job of accomplishing the goals that he set out for himself and it all went out to him. Seeing the big picture in my mind,

Gary "Shoofly" Lewis:

I think that's why he'll make a great Imperial Potentate just because of his work ethic. It's in his heart. He cares about the hospitals, he cares about the children. He cares about the fraternity and all the nobles, and just because he's just one of the most caring people I've ever met, I think he's going to really have a wonderful year and leave his mark on The Shrine.

Judy Burke:

Richard and I want this coming year to be one of the best years for our nobility and for Shriners Children's. It's very difficult to all of our efforts to be in one place because our hearts aren't in one place. Our hearts aren't just with the hospitals. They're with the nobility, and we love them both, and we want to make it a great year for everyone.

Richard Burke:

As Imperial Potentate and I plan to visit as many entities as I can. I want to go to Associations and I'm going to put the right people in charge of international. I'm going to try to focus people what they're good at and put them there to improve what we do. I want my legacy to be that people would know me as approachable, friendly, kind, but having to make the tough decisions when I needed to make them.