Bobbie Burke

Roberta Gorsuch Burke

No accounting of the Admiral can be complete without acknowledging the support Bobbie provided to her Sailor.

“Bobbie” Burke was as slender, shy and soft-spoken as her husband was bear-shaped, gregarious and full speed in command. But from the moment they met on a blind date in Annapolis, she, like him, was married to the Navy.

She was a native of Lawrence, Kan., and moved with her family to Westminster, Md., during World War I. Soon she began working for the Treasury Department in Washington. When her older sister was invited on a blind date with a midshipman and backed out, Mrs. Burke went instead and was introduced to her future husband. They were married June 7, 1923, the day he graduated from the Naval Academy.

Washington Post

Early on, she would follow the fleet, walking the waterfront to find accommodations close to fleet landing that they could afford. She understood that he had to be able to see his “big canoe.” For many years, money was tight, and she learned how to stretch their slim pay.

Most of the time, she lived alone while he was at sea, with a series of Great Danes to keep her company.

She travelled across country to see him for a single day during a port visit. On one occasion, Arleigh placed a loosing bet with all the wardroom funds, leaving none to live on for a month. Attending training in New York, arriving with only $20 in her pocket, they lived mostly on day-old donuts. When the fleet finally arrived (with a paymaster), they were down to $2 in her pocket.
(E.B Potter)

During the war years, she worked with the Red Cross and was also active in helping other Navy wives cope with their husbands’ long absences. 

When Arleigh became CNO, she threw open the doors of Admiral’s House, a large Victorian structure in Washington that is now the official residence of the Vice President, and she befriended many junior officers’ wives. She became one of America’s best known military wives, affectionately known as “the first lady of the United States Navy”.

She called Grace Kelly, Lady Edwina Mountbatten, and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek her friends.

A Christian Scientist, she told Admiral Burke it was all right if the Navy came first in his life because her faith was first in hers. She devoured poetry, treasuring Robert Louis Stevenson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and wrote her own.

Baltimore Sun

As Arleigh lost his vision later in life, she read to him and took dictation for his correspondence.

Seventy three years after being married in the USNA chapel, she is present to see her husband eulogized by the President of the United States, and accompany his caisson to the final resting spot on Hospital Point.

Bobbie was so gentle and unassertive that few people discerned the vital role she played in his career.

… Arleigh, in any circumstances a great man, was a greater one thanks to Bobbie’s advice and support. She was his steadying influence, cheering him out of his glooms and restraining his impulsiveness. He consulted her on all matters, social, professional, and administrative. She lacked his technical training and his broad, hard earned knowledge, but she was unusually gifted with patience, common sense, and inner strength, and she devoted herself unstintingly to her husbands needs.

To those who knew the Navy and knew his contributions, he was a living legend, and to those who knew the Burkes as a couple, Bobbie was very much a part of the legend.

E. B. Potter, 406, 450

Biography in DDG51 Christening Program

Funeral Bulletin

ObituaryWashington Post – Ken Single – July 7, 1997

ObituaryBaltimore Sun – Scott Wilson – July 11, 1997

ObituaryNew York Times – Enid Nemy – July 9, 1997