Joseph A. Burke, 88, of Philadelphia, a longtime DuPont Co. chemical engineer who dedicated his free time to volunteering with the Boy Scouts and helping recovering alcoholics, died Monday, April 30, of cancer at his home.
Mr. Burke was an international chemical process engineer, responsible for understanding chemical and physical reactions, and the machinery needed to transform raw materials into finished products.
A 1947 graduate of Upper Darby High School, he won a scholarship from the Navy ROTC program and earned a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1951. Seven years later, he followed up with a master’s degree in applied statistics from Villanova University.
Between 1951 and 1993, when he retired, Mr. Burke used his expertise to help build factories around the world that made paint, resins, and plastics. He designed and supervised the construction of facilities in Mexico, China, Brazil, Venezuela, Belgium, Spain, Canada, and the United States.
For most of his career, he was based at offices in Grays Ferry.
“He loved this work,” said his wife, Linda. “His job entailed much more than the technical stuff. Because he worked internationally, he had to learn the ins and outs of the culture, and how to communicate. The travel was a big part of it. He loved the challenge of that.”
Mr. Burke was born and raised in Upper Darby. As a youngster, he joined the Boy Scouts. But rather than leave the scouts as an adult, he volunteered from 1957 through 2017.
In 1977, after 20 years of service, Mr. Burke was honored by the local Cradle of Liberty Council with a Silver Beaver, the highest award that local chapters give to a volunteer.
He assisted with training of leaders and served as a resource to Cub Scout and Boy Scout leaders, mostly in Philadelphia. The Cradle of Liberty Council covers the city and Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
His volunteer titles were neighborhood commissioner, district commissioner, district camping chairman, and assistant Boy Scout council commissioner. He continued to serve on the Scouts’ investment and audit committees until late last year.
In a Dec. 30, 2017, letter marking Mr. Burke’s retirement from Scouting, council executive director Dan Templar wrote that the organization’s role in helping young people build character and leadership skills “would not be possible without the mentorship and support of volunteers like Joe.”
Mr. Burke also was involved with helping recovering alcoholics. He could empathize because he was one. In 1973, he gave up drinking, and in March celebrated 45 years of sobriety. He was comfortable making this public if it would help others, his wife said.
Mr. Burke joined the Southeastern Pennsylvania Intergroup Association, a nonprofit that uses the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous and operates in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties.
“Our primary purpose is to carry the message of recovery to the alcoholic who still suffers. If you want to drink, that’s your business; if you want to stop, it’s ours,” the organization’s mission statement says.
Mr. Burke served as president of the nonprofit in 1983, and vice president, treasurer, and committee director at other times. He attended many meetings and helped newcomers get acclimated, an official said.
Since 1968, Mr. Burke had been a member of Old St. Joseph’s Church in Society Hill. He ushered, served on the parish council, chaired the church’s social committee, and was a member of its finance committee.
When not working or volunteering, he visited 60 countries with his wife. Mr. Burke also supported the Free Library of Philadelphia and the arts in the city.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughter Monika; two grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; two sisters; and a brother. His former wife, Bobbye James Burke, died in 2008.
A viewing starting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 8, will be followed by a 10 a.m. Funeral Mass at Old St. Joseph’s Church, 321 Willings Alley. Interment will be in Woodlands Cemetery.
Donations may be made to Penn Wissahickon Hospice, 150 Monument Rd., No. 300, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. 19004, or to the Woodlands, 4000 Woodland Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19104.