When John W. Burke was in his early 20s, a moment came when two of his life's great loves came to the fore.
Burke, a talented baseball player from Brooklyn, received a letter from the Brooklyn Dodgers asking him to try out. That would have been a dream invitation, except that about the same time, Burke got another tempting offer: An acceptance letter from Cornell Law School.
"He knew a career in the law was more important to him," Burke's son Colin of Lloyd Harbor said of his father's decision to pursue the law.
Burke, who went on to become supervisor in the Town of Oyster Bay for four terms, and a State Supreme Court justice for 27 years, died at his Syosset home Feb. 21. He was 85.
He went to college at St. John's University before law school, and earned a master's degree in tax law from New York University.
In 1949, Burke married his high school sweetheart, Patricia Curran. In 1956, he and Patricia moved to Syosset, where John took up a private legal practice, Colin Burke said.
The couple had eight children between 1954 and 1963, and always made their large family their highest priority, Colin Burke said. When Burke died last month, he and his wife had lived in the same house and been members of the same parish, St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, for more than 50 years, Colin Burke said.
In 1969, Burke, a Republican, was elected supervisor of the Town of Oyster Bay. He worked to preserve open space and youth sports, his son said.
But Burke had always known that his ultimate goal was to be a judge, and in 1977 he was elected to the State Supreme Court in Nassau County.
A 1999 Newsday series on Long Island judges gave Burke high marks, saying his temperament was fair and even, and that he was "methodical, deliberate" and took "copious notes" during trials.
"He always measured four times and cut once," Colin Burke said. "He thought being a judge was the highest calling in the legal profession, and he greatly enjoyed it."
Burke also is survived by three other sons, John of Mendham, N.J., Brian of Fort Salonga and Timothy of Syosset; three daughters, Patricia Hatleberg and Kathleen Briancon, both of Bethesda, Md., and Maureen Meylor of Westfield, N.J.; 27 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by one son, Christopher of Syosset.