Jack Burke Tribute

Jonathan “Jack” Burke  of Castine,  Maine left this world on Saturday August 1, 2020 after a courageous battle with cancer. Jack and his wife, Julie Van de Graaf have been the creative and passionate stewards of the Pentagoet Inn and Jack’s Pub since 2000.  Jack leaves behind one wife, five cats, two mothers, five brothers and their beautiful wives, 12 nieces and nephews and countless friends and acquaintances. We will never forget his generous spirit, how he made us laugh and helped us think about the world and ourselves in new ways.  We all miss our beloved Jack. Photo by Frederic Silberman

Jack’s Notes on Life

Edited and Read by Georgia Williamina Zildjian

I was just another lucky kid who grew up in a peaceful village with limited tribal strife. I wasn’t thrown in a pot of water by restless natives nor did I find dragons at the end of the earth. In keeping score though I renounce my original sin, not the ones after. Born on an ant farm I graduated from DayCare a Phi Beta Napper. I found early success, a life peppered with silly jobs, tried to be a formidable brick in the wall against communism, then developed a conscience, came out the other end stirring the culture wars of Black Kingdom Matters, gave refugees salt baths, band aids and popsicles at the UN, clearing ways for more resource extraction. All threaded together by hospitality and concierge.

I will miss trawling a foggy sunrise on the Georges Banks, the thrill of ending a 28 day stretch on the oil rig and slugging those first beers, or completion of a food run down the white Nile in Sudan for the World Food Program. I will miss movement day when a large group of refugees get their travel packets for their next departure to their host country, a new life. I will never tire of the stories of hardship, pain and suffering.

I built a bizarre bar full of hypocrisy and irony that delights the geopolitical curious. It could be packaged and sold full group under the headlines ‘In from the Cold’ ‘Safe House’ or other cold war monikers. If asked what movie figure I would most emulate I’d try Rick in Casablanca, the world weary saloon owner who openly boasts he didn’t stick up for nobody but actually he did. I’m grateful for the gambits, the gambles and I absolve God of all meaninglessness. You can’t resent life because of painful choices but mention this obituary and get a free drink.

I didn’t get credit for a mindless slogan for underarm deodorant, the Girls of Boko Haram catalog or the working rights of combine driver on a troll farm. Ruled by fortune cookies wisdom and a cruel reliance on musical chairs I was as deep as a teaspoon but like many Irishmen full of Yeats. Invented bacon bits but never got the credit, I was against the pandemic from the start.

I’m a personal embodiment of a running fraud, self delusion. I’ve mostly been devoted to the cult of self-delusion, the repression of who we really are, replacing one tooth fairy with another. They say character traits become more pronounced as we age. So it’s good the mental scurvy ends here. Deliver me from, goodbye to all fleshy tomfoolery, self grasping and incubating bluster. A callout to the beauty of strangers, their help, the serendipity, the joy, the joy, the happenstance. Taking the risk of ‘seeing where it may go.’ And away we go.

Jack Burke July 26, 2020

Mark’s Letter to Jack

Dear Jack,

What a pleasure and a privilege it is to have known you over the years. You’re one of those larger than life types we meet once in a rare while, who inspire even casual acquaintances to live more enthusiastically and generously and with more interest in the world and its inhabitants than the self-regard our social media age encourages.

I’m sure you’re aware of the rumors that have always circulated among your many admirers in this little town and beyond about your history, the international man of mystery aura that you never claim for yourself but that you naturally project. How could your legend be less intriguing given your store of tales from far flung travels and various occupations abroad, and the curios that make being in your pub, the place that vividly projects your personality, so fascinating no matter how many nights one has had the pleasure of sitting there, hoping for a few minutes with and a couple exotic,  “you can’t make it up” stories from the charming, obliging proprietor.  

Legend aside, what we all know for certain about you, Jack, my friend, is that you have lived a sprawling, adventure story of a life, and you have lived it with grace and courage and fairness and concern for others. You’ve enriched the lives of loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and strangers. As the poet would attest, your life doesn’t dwell on an island of self-interest, you are “involved in mankind,” and you set a fine example for the rest of us. Thank you.

Your grateful friend, Mark Salter

I Went to Sea to See (Jack’s Journey)

by Tim Henderson

In a village at the water’s edge I started my days among boys of varied repute. I found the exploits of other youth neither exciting nor enticing. I cared not for the vagaries of life they enjoyed. Each day I left the safe confines of the harbor in my little boat and headed for the open water to refresh my being.

And I rowed

The emptiness of the sea encouraged me and formed an image in my mind. A hope of things not yet seen. I grew strong in mind, body, and spirit. I wondered and wandered. Surely there was more to see and more to be. Surely there was more for me.

So I rowed

The gentle waves slapped against the hull of my little boat. The hollow echo mingled with the bell buoy bobbing in the harbor. Gulls screeched above. Mackerel schooled below. I followed the flow of the sea, not knowing where it would take me. I had no big ideas, only small hopes of a life beyond the clutches of my youth.

Alone I rowed

A larger vessel appeared on the horizon, bringing with it larger dreams of more distant lands. I took up with the workers and was pressed into duty in whatever manner was needed. I made my way to many ports and learned from the natives how to be one of them. I blended in and mended my soul but became nothing.

In my mind I rowed

Then one day, consumed by an illness that threatened to overcome me, I sought the help and kindness of strangers in a strange land. As they nursed me back to health, I searched the eyes of those I did not know. They portrayed a generosity of spirit. A willingness to provide succor to those in need. They owed me nothing, yet they provided everything. I saw in their eyes what I wanted to be.

I closed my eyes and rowed

Leaving the larger vessel behind, I continued in my little boat. I traveled further, renewed by a purpose to seek out and help others in need. To give to them what I had received. I found many in need. The distant lands were filled with desperation. Peopled with refugees from evil, hatred and anger. I gave up any sense of self and carried them to better, safer places. I became their rowboat.

I helped them row

With many years on my shoulders, and many cultures under my belt I thought about my homeland. I rowed from the vast wilderness into the grasp of steel and concrete. A gleaming city with new adventures. I met a stunning woman with flows of molten hair that emanated from the soul of a volcano. Like Icarus I needed to see more.

Closer I rowed

Brandishing my sovereign wit and charm, I convinced the fair maiden to join me in my boat. I assured her of a safe journey through the harbor. Seated in the stern, eyes ablaze with determination, she stared past my soul, into the core of my life force, and grasped the tiller.

Together we rowed

We came upon a seaside village. A home to vessels large and small. An historic place. We made our dwelling there. I constructed a gathering place for other weary travelers and relayed stories of times past. Of places seen. Of people met. Of roads taken. As years passed, many travelers returned to hear twice or thrice told tales and to be regaled with new ones. The legend grows.

But I no longer row

The tales of times and places past linger on the minds of all who heard the words of “The Most Interesting Man in the World”

A Note From Julie

My deepest gratitude to our friends and family who reached out to Jack with letters, photos, videos and calls before he passed. It brought him immense happiness in his final weeks.  And to all of you since then who have sent cards, flowers, dinners, loving thoughts, I am truly humbled and grateful for all your love and support, thank you. There will be a celebration to honor Jack when it’s safe once again for us all to gather together. If you would like to make a donation in his memory, please consider contributing to the “Jack Burke Travel Award Fund”