Thank you, Fran

09.01.2016

I wanted to share a message with all of you about a dear friend of mine whose life, passion and work is an inspiration to us all.

A few days ago, I learned that my dear friend Fran Burke had passed away in her Beacon Hill home. 

Those of us who knew Fran, worked with Fran for Democratic candidates and in politics over the years were deeply saddened by her passing. And I join so many in sending Sarah, Louise, Katen, Frank and all of Fran's family our condolences. From those who loved and worked alongside Fran, there are lessons I take – and want to share – from the life of this remarkable woman.  

In the midst of conventions, state committee meetings, the hustle and bustle, the tumult and the angst, the inspiration and the passion, of this political season, Fran, to me, is a compass, a reminder of what this is all about, what our work is all about.  

I was first introduced to Fran by my friend and mentor, Steve Oleskey, a former Ward 5 member who three years ago gamely agreed to serve as a chair of our unlikely campaign for Attorney General. Steve knew I didn't know much about politics but he was clear that, if I wanted to do this, I needed to meet Fran Burke. He invited Fran to one of our early organizing meetings and, as soon as she came into the room, I knew Fran Burke was someone special. She moved around the room slowly - understandable given the serious health issues that would have led any normal person to lay low. She did not speak long but what she said conveyed a seriousness of purpose, of deliberate intensity, and I felt immediately that she was someone to listen to, to learn from – and, when Fran spoke, everyone sat a little straighter in their chairs.

My friendship with Fran began that day and grew in the months and years since. Here's what I learned:

Fran was a champion for women's equality. She was known as a force for progressive Democratic candidates, and female candidates in particular. I remember standing next to her at Barbara Lee's house for an event to support Emerge, a visionary program supporting women running for office. We were surrounded by wonderful, warm women and memorabilia from the suffragist movement. I remember thinking then that Fran had lived through much of this history and I found myself gravitating to her.

Fran was an esteemed academic, Professor Emerita of Public Administration and Ethics at Suffolk University, where her teaching inspired many young people who have gone on to careers in government. She was widely published. But beyond her scholarship, Fran lived and worked in the trenches. There wasn't an event for female progressive candidates that she didn’t attend. And election after election, Fran was right there, sending emails to her networks, working the polls, going to ward meetings, and encouraging and guiding candidates like me. She was a Democrat who embodied progressive Democratic values.

I remember a short while into my campaign for AG, after an event for the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, Fran invited me to follow her up to Beacon Hill for a meeting of the women's association. Ever looking for an opportunity to help, she thought I could maybe meet some people there. We hopped in the cab and drove from Broad Street to the Hampshire House. The event was just getting out by the time we arrived. We said hello to a couple of folks, but Fran could see I was disappointed that I missed a chance to meet more people. So she suggested we go for a beer downstairs at the famed Cheers bar and meet some voters.

I had not done any retail politicking before and was clueless. We sat down at the bar and ordered a beer. Fran told me that my job was to work the entire room and introduce myself to everyone in it. I was nervous and feeling awkward. But, having been exhorted by a feisty octogenarian, who was I to wimp out? She got it started. Turning to the man next to her, Fran said, "This is Maura Healey, you need to vote for her for Attorney General." Of course, this being Cheers, he was from out of town - as were most in the room that night. But Fran showed me how to do it. It was also open mic night at the bar. And she asked the MC if I could say a few words. I was horrified. It was among my earliest attempts at a stump speech. I got laughed at - not because it was funny - and got more than a few quizzical looks. But when we walked out into the cool early winter air, I thought for the first time, This isn’t so bad. Maybe I can do this.” 

Fran Burke gave me the courage to actually be a candidate.

Over the next several months, Fran was there. With her sharp intellect, her direct and candid assessment, she could register disdain at a strategy idea with a mere glance (I was the recipient of some of those) and could simultaneously fill you with a feeling like you could do or conquer anything with a simple smile and a hug.(I got those too).  

While the term trailblazer is generally overly used, Fran actually was a true trailblazer. And in the age of social media, armies of campaign consultants and strategists and pundits, Fran was a doer, an activist. She made things happen. I was a small, but very fortunate and grateful beneficiary.

When Hillary Clinton is our next President, I will think of Fran. I'll miss standing by her on election night to take it in. No one would have wanted to see it happen and to be there more than Fran. Her untimely passing has a poignancy I cannot adequately put into words.  When we celebrated National Women's Equality Day on Friday, when I canvassed this weekend in New Hampshire for Hillary and Maggie Hassan, I had Fran on my mind.

But leave it to Fran. When I spoke with her daughter Sarah last week following Fran's death, I heard that there would be no flowers. Instead, there is a call for donations to be made to Hillary's campaign or to any other progressive woman candidate! 

I smiled then and smile now.  She has blazed the trail, set the table, and now it's time for me and all of us to keep up the work.  Let's go out, work our tails off and win this one for Fran. And let's celebrate her remarkable life and legacy at her memorial on September 19th in King's Chapel in downtown Boston at 3 PM. The family will host a reception at the Langham Hotel immediately following.

Anyone successful in life has someone like Fran Burke in their corner; usually several people like that. I’m so grateful to have had Fran and will carry her life lessons with me every day.

I’m thankful for her and for all of you.

Maura


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