Mrs Arleigh Burke

From Arleigh Burke Christening Program

Mrs. Arleigh Burke has been known for years as the “First Lady of the Navy.”

Born Roberta Gorsuch in Lawrence, Kansas, on January 3, 1899, Mrs burke was raised in the Midwest and in Washington, D. C.  She met Admiral Burke on a blind date his plebe year at the Naval Academy. Four years later on June 7, 1923 – the day Arleigh Burke became Ensign Arleigh Burke – Ms. Roberta Gorsuch became Mrs. Arleigh Burke. The newlyweds managed a one-night honeymoon in Baltimore before heading West to Bremerton, Washington and Ensign Burke’s first duty aboard the battleship Arizona. It was the joyous start of a marriage that has endured nearly seven decades. 

It was also the beginning of a military life of frequent separations and uprootings. But Mrs. Burke – who possesses the rare ability to turn chaos into order – quickly developed a foolproof system of house hunting to satisfy a husband who wanted to spend his shore leave with her, while still not losing sight of his beloved ship. Mrs. Burke says:

“I’d get the word when Arizona was returning from sea and find out where she was going to dock. Then I’d start walking … Usually, I found something. Although now and again Arleigh just had to put up with being out of sight of his big canoe.” 

She has always been a Navy wife-first and foremost. When her husband limited her baggage to one household box and a wardrobe trunk, she managed. When her husband was sent to gunnery school in New York City and she was given a household budget of $120 to stretch out for six weeks, she managed.

During the war years, she lived on a sun porch in Washington, D.C.-once again in sight of the water. She devoted herself to Red Cross work and to helping other Navy wives learn to cope with their husbands’ long wartime absences. For the U.S. Navy, as well as for Admiral Arleigh Burke, Roberta Burke went about her job with an inner strength that never seemed to falter. 

Asked once about her secret for a long and happy marriage, Mrs. Burke said:

“It’s like moving from a house to an apartment. You bring all your favorite properties and you enjoy the things you like the best. It’s that way with another person.  You appreciate the best things about them more as the years go by.”

During the years Admiral Burke spent as Chief of Naval Operations, Mrs. Burke was one of Washington’s garments and most elegant hostesses.  She is also an accomplished musician.  Yet, in spite of all this, she remains a modest woman.  When asked what her biography should say, she answered:

“Just tell them I am the wife of Arleigh Burke.”