A Boatload of Generosity

Shindig Yacht

"I could’ve gotten more for the boat if I’d sold it outright, instead of gifting it to MMA.” The boat, named Shindig, is an Andrews 70 racing yacht. And that is really all you need to know about Arthur Burke, M.D., renowned physician, sailor, and combat veteran. Burke’s lifelong love and respect for the water and for sailing imbue everything he believes and does. The den in his Padanaram Village home, its walls covered with race memorabilia and plaques and shelves filled with trophies and books about maritime history, is a testament to that life.

Strong Roots

Burke’s love for the sea started when he was a boy, spending his days on the waters of Hingham Bay. In his teens, he ran the Hull Yacht Club junior sailing program and sailed on a Lawley 15 with his sister Janet. It was nothing fancy, but it taught him the importance of basic seamanship, responsibility, and respect for the elements.

The son of Irish Catholic parents who both grew up in his hometown of Milton, Mass., Burke and his siblings were strongly encouraged to use their physical and intellectual gifts not only to improve themselves, but also for the betterment of those less fortunate. The values of hard work, empathy, and compassion ruled the day in the Burke household. He went on to attend Boston College High School and Boston College, where he excelled as an intramural athlete and scholar while the Jesuit tradition reinforced the lessons from home.

As a teen in the 1960s, Burke thought that a career as a U.S. Navy aviator would be his ultimate goal, until his father disavowed him of such a fantasy. “Get a degree, be a professional … a doctor, lawyer, or professor” was a message that struck home. So after BC, it was on to Tufts Medical School, followed by an internship at Rhode Island Hospital, with thoughts of becoming a surgeon front and center in Burke’s mind.

In the Navy

In 1968, with the Vietnam War at its peak, it was apparent that the draft was going to snatch him up. Thinking he would rather control what he would do, Burke opted to sign up. His choice: the U.S. Navy, on a ship preferably in the North Atlantic. “I thought I was being clever,” he recalls with a laugh. “I told them I wanted sea duty … I was single … I don’t get seasick, so I said I’d take it all!”

While there was no ship, there was duty at the nuclear sub base at Holy Loch, Scotland. Then, like in a scene out of a movie, what Burke thought was going to happen didn’t. He was at the Chelsea Naval Hospital preparing to leave and report to the U.K. when the phone rang. “I was the captain I’d been talking to about my assignment,” Burke says, shaking his head. While he did not want a submarine, he did not expect this. Scotland was out, as was the North Atlantic. He was heading to the S.E.A.L. Base in Coronado, Calif., followed by Camp Pendleton, where he’d learn to shoot with the 1st Marines. Then it was on to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam with the 117 Mobile Riverine Force (the famed “River Rats”) aboard the USS Colleton supporting the 9th Infantry Division. Burke spent the next year as a Navy lieutenant serving as a medical doctor in a combat zone during the height of the war.

Returning home, he had a choice of where to finish his hitch, so to no one’s surprise he went to Newport, R.I. Moonlighting on weekends in emergency rooms, Burke worked 100-plus-hour weeks with other veteran doctors who also knew a little bit about trauma cases. Somehow, he also found some time to get out on the water, not only to sail but also to live the dream — getting an up-close view of the Intrepid winning the 1970 America’s Cup. “It was a fun summer,” Burke says with his typical nonchalance.

Carving a Path

During those days, Burke would drive the back roads from Newport all the way to Buzzards Bay, where the Academy sits. In a place where the wind blew 20 knots all the time, he knew he had found home. Now focused on his medical career, Burke completed his residency at Tufts New England Medical Center and a fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital. He served as a Tufts Medical School instructor in radiology until 1978, then as a staff radiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, where he remained until 2012. Throughout his career, he held leadership positions at the hospital as well as throughout the Commonwealth’s medical community.

Burke’s relationship with MMA began decades ago as an on-board advisor to the Bermuda race teams in the early ’90s. He has mentored many of MMA’s cadets, and his impressions of MMA sailors are wholly positive. “They remind me of my days in the Navy: looking good, always willing to take direction, and always with a ‘sir this or that,’” Burke says.

He firmly believes that while not elitist, sailing is an elite sport where engineering, meteorology, vector physics, and speed variables all meet. How well the crew melds can be the difference in the closest of contests. “It’s a wonderful tool with which to teach life lessons and respect for others, shipmates, and the environment, a perfect fit with the Academy’s overall educational mission,” Burke says.

Chuck Fontaine and Arthur Burke

Sharing a Love for Sailing

When it’s all boiled down, every boat donated to MMA means much more than potential revenue. We are really talking about the aspirations of these young men and women. The program’s overall impact can be measured in training hours, cadet experience on the water, and, of course, financially. In the past 30 years, due to the generosity of its donors, the program at MMA has committed considerable resources in order to compete on the regional, national, and global sailing stage alongside the premier programs in the country. And MMA has seen great success, including the Collegiate Offshore National Championship in 2001. The experiences, preparation, and knowledge gained from these events continue to provide MMA’s cadets a jump start on wherever their careers might take them.

Yes, Arthur Burke could have gotten a lot more for his boat … and in the end, he has. It’s something deep down, and he already knew it.