John J. Burns
of BinghamtonIn 1921, John Burns was born on the West Side of Binghamton. He attended Binghamton Schools and graduated from Binghamton Central High School in 1939. He served on board ship in the Atlantic as a sonarman looking for German submarines. After the war, upon joining Saint Pat's Church choir, he met the love of his life. Her name was Teresa Gallagher, and was the widow of a war hero named Bobby Gallagher. Teresa's maiden name was McMahon. In sickness and in health, good times and bad, they stayed together, completely in love, for over fifty-five years. With Teresa's love, help and support, this Irish Catholic boy, who lost his father at age twelve and whose mother, during the depression, was the bread winner for four, would become, in the world of state and national politics, in the heydey of the Kennedys, Binghamton's favorite son. During nearly fifty years in public life, John Burns went from City Hall, to the highest levels of Democratic politics and governance in Albany. In the early 1950's, John ran for several offices including Third Ward Supervisor, which he lost, and for Congress which he lost by more votes than anyone in the history of the seat - and he still may hold the record. He founded and became the president of the young Democrats. Mayor Donald Kramer hired John as the assistant to the Mayor. John was elected mayor of Binghamton in 1957 and re-elected in 1961. In 1962, John Burns was picked by the state Democratic Party as their candidate for Lt. Governor on a ticket headed by Robert Morgenthau - who is the longtime District Attorney in Manhattan. They would lose to incumbent Nelson Rockefeller. It was this campaign, however, that would put John on a path that would introduce him to the Kennedys. In 1964, former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, following the assassination of his brother, asked Mayor Burns to serve as his upstate campaign chairman in his successful bid for the U.S. Senate. John became a close personal confidante of the Kennedys, and the following year, was asked by Senator Kennedy to head the New York State Democratic Party. In 1968, John's heart was broken when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. John's sons and family friend, Matt Ryan, served as honor guards around the casket for one hour during the wake at St. Patrick's, as tens of thousands of mourners passed by, the night before the funeral. John was asked by Ethel Kennedy, Robert's widow, to serve as an usher at the funeral. He did serve. Following the funeral, John and Teresa traveled on the very famous train ride with the Senator's body from New York to Washington. John and Teresa would remember this as the most touching two hours of their life as they watched the train's route covered with people, many in tears, waving American flags and all with a shared look of disbelief and sadness. In 1971, then New York City Mayor, John Lindsay, chose John to serve as his national Campaign Coordinator in his presidential bid. John resigned as party chairman and joined Lindsay's failed effort. In 1972, John Lindsay would appoint John to the New York City Board of Water Supply. In 1978, Gov. Hugh Carey asked John to join him as re-election campaign manager. John resigned from the water commission and took over the campaign and led the Carey-Cuomo ticket to victory. Governor Carey asked John to serve as his Appointments Secretary, responsible for managing the process of vetting and hiring appointees to top positions in state government. In this position, John put his personal stamp on the quality and temperament of governance throughout the state. He often joked that his thankless job, which required turning down hundreds of office-seekers, should be re-titled the Governor's "Disappointments" Secretary. In 1982, Governor Carey appointed John to the SUNY Council at SUNY Binghamton, a position to which he was re-appointed by Governor Cuomo in 1986. He later ran, unsuccessfully, for NYS Senate in 1988 and again for Mayor in 1993. As the years marched on, Teresa was disabled with arthritis and from 1993 until March 2003 he took care of her every need. He fed her every meal. He would even take her shopping at the mall. At the end of the day, he would put her in her pajamas and tuck her into bed. He was a man. A real man. Unafraid to serve where God appointed him. He would say to his children, on many occasions that "the only thing that you can take with you from this world is what you have done for others." His beloved Teresa died on February 9th, 2004, and now, nine months later, he has joined her in heaven. Although we will miss them, we are happy for them. Mostly, we are grateful for having had them. They leave us with nothing but love. He is survived by his sister, Madelyn Case; and sister-in-law, Mrs. William P. (Ellen) Burns; his children and their spouses, Robert and Laura Burns, Patrick Burns and Betsy DiFrancesco, Shiela and Steve Kyle, John and Sue Burns, Joe and Sue Burns, Tommy and Jenny Burns, Marie Burns, Jeanie Burns and Ralph Varn, Annie Burns, Daniel Burns and Jessica Stewart, Vince Burns and Julie Hughs, Terry Burns Kristy and Ron Kristy; grandchildren, Gabriel McCarthy, Eamonn McCarthy, Amelia Burns, Brendan McMahon Burns, Meghan Burns, Sarah Burns, Ella Varn, Anna Lashley, Carter Lashley, Sonya Burns, John Burns III, Seamus Burns, Liam Burns, Justin Paulsen, Finian Burns, Jasmine Burns, Roan Burns, Jay Kyle, Hannah Kyle; two great-grandchildren, Dylan and Zack Dalton; and two more grandchildren on the way; the McMahon and McCabe families; his beloved niece, Laura McMahon Kunhen; and "seventh" daughter, Rachel Mischler (grand niece). He was a lifetime member of Saint Patrick's Church, Binghamton.
A Funeral Mass will be offered at St. Patrick's Church, corner of Oak and Leroy Streets, Binghamton, Friday at 11 a.m. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, Johnson City. The family will receive friends at the J.A. McCormack Sons Funeral Home, 141 Main Street, Binghamton, Thursday from 4-8 p.m. In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy in memory of John may be made to the Ithaca Catholic Worker, 122 Cleveland Avenue, Ithaca, N.Y. 14850.
Published in Press & Sun-Bulletin on Nov. 18, 2004.