Patrick Owen Burns of Sheffield, a native New Yorker and resident of Brooklyn Heights for over 50 years, died Thursday, Sept. 28, at the age of 80, from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Born in 1937 to Edward D. and Anne Gallagher, of Fieldston, New York, Patrick grew up in the city and then attended Dartmouth College. After Dartmouth he received his law degree cum laude from Harvard in 1962. Soon after graduation Patrick went to Africa to serve as the legal advisor to the nation of Lesotho, which he did for a year before he returned to New York City to work for Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy. During his tenure at Milbank, his interest in political and social change grew. He was program and borough coordinator for Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign for Senate and a special investigator and attorney for the OEO’s (Office of Economic Opportunity) Head-Start Project in Louisiana, created to address the effects of poverty in the United States by intervening to aid children. He was also a volunteer defense attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, for the ACLU, an assistant to Edward Kennedy in his campaign for Senate and a legal consultant to the Warren Commission investigating President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
In 1968 Patrick ran for city council in the 18th district of Brooklyn; while this effort was unsuccessful, it did not dampen his commitment to public service. He eventually left Milbank to become a deputy of ICBO (Interracial Council for Business Opportunity) where he had been working pro bono on behalf of the firm. He soon became the president and formed a MESBEC (Minority Enterprise Small Business Company) known as MECCO and became its CEO, focusing on investing in a variety of minority-owned businesses including Essence Magazine. While running MECCO, Patrick also served as a governor of the SBIC Association in Washington, D.C., and testified before congress multiple times regarding issues of capital formation and its power to effect social and economic change.
Ever civic-minded, Patrick served on the board of directors of several medical facilities and health centers around New York including the Long Island College Hospital, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Beth Israel Foundation, Cobble Hill Health Center, Heights and Hill Community Center and Resources for Children with Special Needs. Patrick dedicated his life to helping others through his professional and volunteer work and continued to work in venture capital as a fund manager, board director and consultant until he retired in 2011.
After health issues required a move to Sheffield, he continued to be active in his community, working as president of the Friends of Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, an as a member of the Sheffield Historical Society and its finance committee, and of the Sheffield Land Trust, all while continuing to be an active member of the Council on Foreign Relations for 42 years.
He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Barbara Hope Van Riper Burns; his children Patrick Owen Burns Jr. and Elizabeth Willett Burns Secchia; and grandchildren Emma, Patrick III, Zachariah, Massimiliano and Rose.
The Burns family would like to thank the doctors, nurses and staff of Mount Greylock Extended Care Facility of Pittsfield for their tireless work and compassion in Patrick’s care.
A funeral will be held Saturday, Oct. 7, at 11 a.m. at Christ Trinity Church, 180 Main St., Sheffield. A memorial service will be held Saturday, Nov. 11, at 10:30 a.m. at Grace Church, 245 Hicks St., Brooklyn Heights, New York. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Christ Trinity Church or Americares c/o FINNERTY & STEVENS FUNERAL HOME, 426 Main St., Great Barrington, MA 01230. To send remembrances to the family, go to www.finnertyandstevens.com.