Editor’s note: The following is the first in a three-part series.
By Marjorie Stradinger
Connie Burke is one of those larger-than-life personalities. Learning from mutual friends that she’d worked for NBC, I wanted to know more.
We lunched in Southwick, Mass., at Zantos, ordered beef barley soup, Greek salad, and calamari to share. Zantos’ pasta sauce is sweet and delicious.
I established Connie is short for Constance, honoring a celebrated family member, a nun. Connie resumed her maiden surname after divorce.
“I was born at an early age,” she quipped, giving you some idea of her humor, always at ready. Nearing 70, she’s gracious and sports a robust smile and tone.
I asked our server, Liz, for extra napkins.
“And, a couple extra plates,” Connie joined in, “and napkins. We need napkins.”
I believe Connie entered life organizing.
“I have two things I’d like to give to you,” as she handed me press releases, “a story from The Hartford Courant,” showing a dramatic picture of herself.
“That’s me when I was a fancy press rep for a large commercial bank,” Connie said.
“You were a looker,” I said.
“Someone from church was helping me with my pool, and remarked, ‘You were a hottie,’” she reflected, relishing the memory.
After the bank, she worked in mental health, then broadcasting.
“I was on the state mental health board when they were de-institutionalizing,” she said.
She’s the proud mother of two.
“My son just appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and was profiled in The Boston Business Journal,” she said. “He’s a foreign currency trader … MBA … architectural engineer … sort of a Renaissance man.” Her daughter lives in Brooklyn, went to Columbia on a sports scholarship — double master’s in preschool and social work.
Connie’s New Haven childhood was happy.
“I was spoiled in every sense,” she said. “My parents, Joe and Bea Burke, married late in life. My mom was 43 when I was born. We’re Irish Catholic, 100 percent harp,” she twinkled.
Calamari and salad arrived. I began dishing out.
“Oh, you’re going to serve. We’ve got Greek olives; ooh, it looks delicious; oh, and little pitas,” she gushed appreciatively.
“We left New Haven when I was 11; my dad had a job for the IRS in Hartford. He came from a generation that … had to leave school early to support family,” she said.
She called out, “Hey, Liz, we need the two plates and a couple of spoons.”
Connie’s mother was educated … a composer … at 17 had her music published.
“She wrote ballads … had a girls’ jazz band, and was a radio artist, singer and piano player … at Hartford’s station WTIC, where I got my first job.”
She remembers her dad. “He was hilarious. My grandmother lived with us. My mom stayed home until I started first grade, St. Aden’s in New Haven. I was expelled from kindergarten. I kept getting locked in the bathroom in the convent. It didn’t have crawl space under the door. Being modest, I’d put the hook on. I could look out and see the kids having their milk, but couldn’t get my chocolate milk. Every day, they called the janitor to take the door off its hinges.”
She praises Catholic school education: “I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with Bill O’Reilly. He (says he) had a good education.”
Her mother traded piano playing for a dance studio for dance lessons for Connie.
“My first teacher was a Rockette,” she said.
Living in the back yard of Yale’s cultural and athletic centers, with access to New York celebrities, Connie led a “charmed life.”
“I always got leads in plays … Irish Catholic plays have a lot of singing,” she said.
Her Burke roots include Edmund Burke.
“He was the most supportive member of Parliament for the American Revolution,” she said. “His mother was Catholic, his father Protestant, brought up by a Quaker. I’m sure he knew the Lord. He wrote something politicians today should pay attention to: ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’”
Stars on her father’s side included Mary Corbett, cousin of New Yorker world heavyweight champion prizefighter, Gentleman Jim Corbett.
“Mother hoped I’d be a piano player,” she said. “I took a little. I wanted to do football. Back in the day, people did all kinds of things. The world was my oyster. I was valedictorian of my ninth grade class at St. Mary’s. (The nun) would always would say and write on our papers, ‘Make the most of all God has given you.’ I certainly felt I could.”
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue