Practical Joker With Heart
Keith J. Burns bought his future wife, Jennifer, an engagement ring with a diamond the size of a baseball. And it was worth about as much: the ring was plastic.
"Before he proposed to me, we would always joke around about the ring," Mrs. Burns recalled. "So he bought this huge plastic diamond ring. It was bigger than my whole wrist." She didn't mind — he had introduced her to his big thinking on their first date, which included two Broadway shows and a Rangers game on her first weekend in the city. For Mr. Burns, who worked in ticketing for Cantor Fitzgerald, there was no such thing as a small occasion.
Though he had recently made the switch from ticketing to equities, Mr. Burns, of East Rutherford, N.J., never lost his zeal for gift giving or for surprises, said his twin sister, Colleen Cooper. At 39, he was still a prankster. His young nephew, expecting an extravagant gift from his favorite uncle, instead received a bunch of balloons — in which Mr. Burns had painstakingly hidden five $20 bills. Years ago, at a going-away party on the eve of his move to Hawaii, Mr. Burns greeted his five siblings with a bag full of freshly cut coconuts. "He always thought big," said Ms. Cooper. "It was never just ordinary."
Case in point: the Keith Burns upgrade. "He used to bring extra tickets to the Rangers game, and he would find a father and a son, or a father and a daughter sitting in the 400 section, the nosebleed seats," recalled his brother, Michael. "And he'd say, `Mike, I'll be right back.' " With his tickets, Mr. Burns would bring the lucky pair down to the 100 section, where there was waiter service, the works. "It made him happy, to do that," his brother said.
Oh, and of course Mrs. Burns eventually got a real ring.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on Sunday, March 31, 2002.