Editor’s note: The following is the third in a three-part series. Part one appeared in the Dec. 28, 2011-Jan. 3, 2012, issue, and the second appeared in the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue.
Connie Burke’s Connecticut childhood was “a charmed life.” After college, she worked for NBC, married and had two children. Later, life took some dramatic turns.
By Marjorie Stradinger
After Connie Burke’s post-college trip to Europe, she flew to California, but returned to Connecticut because her father asked her to. Until she met Frank.
“I ended up falling in love … my college roommate’s brother, a Notre Dame man, divorced, Navy pilot in training during the Vietnam War,” Connie said. “Frank was stationed in Honolulu (1966). I graduated from virginity at that point … went to Hawaii to get married. It’s traditionally a military base. Barry (Obama) was born around that time. I didn’t know him,” she winked.
“You think he was born there?” I had to ask.
Connie and I finished Greek salads … passed on cannolis at Zanto’s, and ordered decaf.
“I ended up writing for NBC in Hawaii,” she said. “They flew the news in on tape; it was live television. I was writing everything under the sun.”
“Living with Frank?” I asked.
“A Catholic girl living in sin,” she said. “My parents knew we were going to be married. Somewhere along the line, I found out he had … (been) with everything but the kitchen sink.”
“Womanizer!” I exclaimed.
“You bet,” she said. “Doing his laundry, I found notes.”
Connie’s father had cancer; she returned to Hartford. Her dad died when she was 25. She went to work at Connecticut Bank & Trust, in PR. I looked at her press release picture of that time.
“Stylish,” I said. “You look a lot like Bernadette Peters.”
Within two years, Connie married a real estate developer.
“I was the middle wife … married for 21 years … two children … worked full time for his 22 businesses, managing 8,000 acres,” she said.
“Did you have a cook?” I asked.
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I was a mother 24/7. We had a big house. Entertained governors there.”
Connie’s vast network was helpful to her husband.
“He was a good father, but wasn’t interested in anything I was doing,” she said. “More than lonely. We were raised Catholic. Neither of us went to church because Sunday was a sales day.”
Connie got her Realtor’s license and did free-lance advertising.
After the dissolution of her marriage, she needed some counseling and met with Polly Robinson Dershebon (her grandfather, Doane Robinson’s concept led to the creation of Mt. Rushmore).
“I’d worked in broadcasting,” she said. “She (Polly) was on a doctoral committee at a major school in Massachusetts.”
They began working on a television pilot and proposal, which Connie presented to her former boss … got a sponsor … raised money and got a “big name” to look at the scripts.
“We worked our hearts out,” she said. “Oh, this is bad.”
The actor changed it … “but it was our idea. I was devastated. We had a set … it broke my heart. You can’t copyright a concept.”
Her health degenerated.
“I was dying of cardiomyopathy, a fatal degenerative disease,” she said. “The cure’s a transplant; I wasn’t a candidate. I was 52 with two months to live. On my couch, about three days after, I got saved. The woman who led me to the Lord … I knew God was the healer. In six weeks, there was no trace of it.”
Connie lived on Social Security, cleaned houses and took in boarders.
“One was a witch who put a curse on me; I broke both ankles,” she said. “I got healed; my house got healed. I got baptized in the Holy Spirit. Been on the fast track since … such a good start with God.”
She had “stuff” to get rid of. “Don’t we all! Soul ties. Scripture says ‘they shall become one flesh,’” she explained. “It’s like going to bed with a cast of thousands.You have to get rid of all (that). I had to throw up for a day. God was cleaning me out. I don’t mean I was the happy hooker, but I needed to know I was the chick with the legs.”
“You’re very honest,” I said.
There were more health problems:
“I didn’t have symptoms … a stroke,” she said. “Later, massive hemorrhaging, kidney failure … Riddle’s Syndrome. Has to do with recycling sodium. Then, congestive heart failures. Fluid from the wrong medication. Allergies.”
I ask what wisdom she has gained from all of this.
“Sister Constance said: ‘Make the most of all God has given you,’” she said. And, “A diamond is a piece of coal that stuck to the job,” she added.
At decade six, Connie remembers William Wordsworth:
“Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower, we will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind …”
“Don’t be afraid of age,” Connie admonished. “I feel like God saved the best for last. God has been so patient; it takes my breath away.”
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 Jan. 18-24, 2012, issue