William Burkley, 71, delegate, adviser to governors

October 15, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

William F. Burkley, a former state delegate who served four governors and fought for legislation that would guarantee minorities access to public accommodations, died of heart failure Friday at his home in Elkton.

A lifelong resident of Elkton, he was 71.

Mr. Burkley was 24 years old when he was elected to the House of Delegates in 1954, beginning an involvement with politics that continued until his death.

"He told my mother before they got married that politics was his hobby. But it turned out to be a lot more than that," said his daughter, Wendy Burkley Barry of Bel Air.

He served two terms in the legislature, was a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and, in 1958, co-sponsored a bill aimed at ensuring equal access to public facilities in Maryland.

"It was quite controversial in its time. But he was a progressive person and his thinking reflected that," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who served in the legislature with Mr. Burkley.

Mr. Burkley attended Cecil County public schools and graduated from Elkton High School in 1947.

He attended the University of Richmond for two years before he enrolled in the University of Maryland Law School, where he studied law for two years. In 1952, his father, John K. Burkley, died and Mr. Burkley assumed responsibility for his parents' fledgling real estate and insurance business, his daughter said.

He married Judy Keller of Baltimore in 1955.

Mr. Burkley served in the House of Delegates for eight years before he was defeated in a bid for a state Senate seat in 1962. But he remained active in politics, serving as an adviser to several governors and being courted for support by state political figures.

"If Bill Burkley supported you, it really meant something because he was such a good person," Curran said. "His support was always worth some votes in Cecil County."

As a legislator, he served on the Judiciary and the House Ways and Means committees. He focused on varied issues, monitoring the fate of the Naval Training School at Bainbridge and ensuring that the newly built Peach Bottom nuclear plant didn't pollute the Susquehanna River.

After leaving the legislature, he became chairman of the Maryland Transportation Commission and for 13 years advised Govs. Marvin Mandel and Harry R. Hughes on transportation issues.

He was named by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to the Maryland Economic Development and Community Development Commission in the 1980s and became a major promoter of economic development projects in Cecil County.

He helped develop the Upper Chesapeake Corporate Center, an office and industrial park in Elkton, and worked with Cecil County officials to attract a number of major employers, including Konica, which manufactures office equipment, and W.L. Gore & Associates, the makers of Gore-Tex fabric.

As a member of the Elkton Alliance Commission, he also was instrumental in efforts to revitalize downtown Elkton.

He served Gov. Parris N. Glendening as a member of Cecil County's Trial Courts Judicial Nominating Commission, a group of lawyers and non-lawyers who recommends judicial appointments.

Mr. Burkley was president of the Maryland Insurance Agents Association, was the first president of the Cecil County Board of Realtors, was on the board of Union Hospital of Cecil County, and was a member the Elkton Kiwanis Club.

He also enjoyed traveling.

Services will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Trinity Episcopal Church in Elkton.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, John K. Burkley II of Elkton; a brother, John K. Burkley Jr. of Baltimore; twin sisters, Barbara Hutchinson of Jeffersonton, Va., and Calysta Amos of Newark, Del.; and two grandchildren.

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