A Century Of Love

July 06, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

One hundred years ago today, Nicholas Charles Burke was a 38-year-old Baltimore County judge with a beautiful home and a lTC growing family. His fifth child, Margaret, was born that day.

Yesterday, Margaret Burke Allen celebrated her 100th birthdayin style, with about 200 of her father's descendants gathering at the Cromwell Valley Apartments Clubhouse in Towson to feast on birthday cake and family lore.

Judge Burke, who went on to serve 15 years as a local judge and another 15 years on the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, had eight children with his wife, Chloe. And according to a recentfamily tree, there are about 435 living descendants.

Most of the Burkes who came to the reunion yesterday knew little about their famous forefather, but some of his grandchildren were there and remembered him, if vaguely.

Margaret Allen Babcock, 71, was three years old when "Grandfather Burke" passed away in December 1929, but she remembers sitting on his lap in the big leather chair in his study.

"He had a blue box with the picture of a lady on it," Mrs. Babcock remembered. "And he always had chocolate caramel candies in it."

Mrs. Babcock, who now lives in Wilmette, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, was one of many relatives who flew in for the family reunion.

Virginia Hughes Burke, one of Judge Burke's granddaughters, came from Miami. Others came from Texas, Wyoming and Colorado. Marie Mudd Hettinger, another granddaughter of Judge Burke, probably came the farthest. She's from Yakima, Wash.

But back in 1920s, '30s and '40s, most of the Towson Burke clan still lived in the then-sleepy hamlet of Towson. The many grandchildren played with each other and would often visit "Grandma Burke" at her Allegheny Avenue apartment.

"I didn't know my grandfather that well, but I heard lots of stories about him from my grandmother," said Margaret Allen Babcock.

One involved the young Nicholas Burke working on his father's farm, digging with a hoe, when a Towson lawyer rode up in hishorse and buggy.

The lawyer held out a $10 gold piece and said, "'Look what I got for arguing in front of Judge Boarman for half an hour,' " Mrs. Babcock recalled.

"He dropped his hoe and went right into Towson and spoke to Judge Boarman about reading the law under him," she continued. "And he did. That's how he got his start."

Virginia Hughes Burke remembered fondly the huge family gatherings back in the 1920s and 1930s. "As all big Irish families were in those days, we were really close," she said.

Virginia Blatchley, 52, a psychologist from St. Michaels, is the youngest grandchild of the judge. "My grandmother was alive when I was growing up, and she was a very intimidating lady. She was kind, but very intimidating."

"Intimidating?" Margaret Allen Babcock asked, in good-natured disbelief. "No, she wasn't intimidating. You were a spoiled little brat back then."

"Don't print that," Ms. Blatchley said, jokingly.

When she was growing up, Margaret Allen Babcock said, Grandma Burke would tell stories about the family and dispense wisdom about life.

"I don't know if you can print this, but she said one time, she said, 'Margaret, let me tell you something. If a man says he wantsyou, it doesn't mean he loves you.' Good advice. She was frank. She was also warm and loving."

Margaret Burke Allen, at 100, doesn't hear too well, and sometimes she loses track of time, her daughters say.

"But she's doing pretty good for 100," said Cecelia McGrain, one of her daughters.

It's pretty unbelievable, in fact, to be 100 years old.

"My mother says she's 72," Margaret Allen Babcock said, "which was the age she was when Dad died. Her life didn't stop, but she seems to be stuck on 72. I tell her, 'Mom, I'm going to be 72 in six months. You couldn't have had me when you were six months old.' She says, 'Well, how old am I, then?' And when I say, 'You're 100,' she says, 'No, I don't believe you.'"

Judge Burke, active in local and state Democratic politics, was Baltimore County state's attorney, then circuit judge and later a judge on the Court of Appeals. At one time he was being urged to run for governor, but declined.

The family home, a mansion the judge called "Greystone," for many years sat on York Road, just south of Towson. Burke Avenue, which takes its name from the judge, used to be the family driveway.

The mansion was sold in the 1930s, torn down to make room for a housing development called Burkleigh Square.

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