A young Henry VIII penned the lines, “Pastime with good company / I love and shall until I die.” Whether Donna Burdick approved of Henry’s politics, her life attested to the fact that she wholeheartedly endorsed the king’s sentiments about living life to its fullest.
Donna Burdick died on July 12 at the age of 86, surrounded by three generations of family and friends. Although she experienced a physical decline in recent years, she maintained her keen interest in others and her love for good talk and good company right until the end.
“You may have arrived at the Burdick home as a guest, but you left as family.” That was how John Petersen, a close family friend, described the infectious hospitality that made the Burdick home legendary in Santa Clara. Making sure there was always a bountiful table, good company, lively conversation, a friend always ready to share perplexities, joys, and sorrows – and a well-made vodka gimlet to go along with it all – was Donna Burdick.
“If you haven’t laughed with the Burdicks, you haven’t laughed,” said former City Council Member Kevin Moore, who served with Donna on the Old Quad El Camino Task Force early in his career. “She told me, every time you see how I’m voting, you vote with me,” he recalls. “Her advice was spot-on.”
Born in San Francisco, Donna Ruggeri was the second of six children. Despite the economic pressures that sent her to work after graduating from High School, she always found time for theater, literature and music – especially the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday radio broadcasts. When she had her own children, she passed down that love of theater and music to them.
In 1954 she married George Burdick, and the couple settled in Santa Clara, where they raised five children. Donna’s endless energy and affection made every child feel like an only child – for example, she had a special song for each child. And she had plenty left to open her heart to nieces and nephews, neighbors and friends. “She was a big personality who had an infinite amount of love,” said longtime friend Tom Berens, who gave the eulogy at her funeral.
Donna wasn’t just an exceptional mother, friend and hostess. She was also part of what friend and fellow Soroptimist member Keri Procunier McLain called “Santa Clara’s power couple. They are in a galaxy of heaven now, working the room,” McLain said. George’s and Donna Burdick’s lives “were a partnership in every respect,” said Berens.
Both Donna and George threw themselves into community with a passion, belonging to every service club and stalwartly supporting every community event. In 1986 they were founding members of the Mission City Community Fund; which now gives a George Burdick award to businesses that go above and beyond in community service. Today their daughter Robin Burdick sits on the MCCF board, keeping the family’s community service tradition alive.
“Donna was a rock star,” said former Mission College Communications Director Peter Anning, who served with her on the West Valley College Foundation. “She could do so much for an organization.”
“Donna was a worker and she gave generously,” McLain said. “She was on the El Camino Task Force, The Kaiser Hospital Task Force. She was appointed by [Gov.] George Deukmejian to the Agnews Governing Advisory Board. She was proud of these appointments and she loved politics.”
She was a keen observer of people and politics and read the paper cover-to-cover daily. “When you wanted to know what’s really going on in Santa Clara, you asked Donna Burdick,” Mercury News columnist Scott Herhold told McLain. But she didn’t want to be crowned as a political oracle, and always insisted that everything was “off the record.”
“I don’t think she realized how much she achieved in 60 years of giving to this community,” said Berens. As Kevin Moore put it, “The Burdicks did everything for Santa Clara, and Santa Clara is a much better place because of them.”