Mary Anderson Burks: 1921-2012

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By Lisa King, Landmark News Service

 Mary Anderson Burks was a woman known for many things, such as being a horticulturist and a businesswoman who was very active in the community, but those who knew her best speak of her devotion to her late husband, Joseph E. Burks.

The Burkses, who lived in Shelbyville, had been married for 66 years when he died last January, having married on Palm Sunday in 1944.

And it was on this past Palm Sunday at 2:15 p.m., the same time of day they had said their wedding vows in 1944, that Mary Burks passed away, to be reunited with her beloved husband on their anniversary.

“Mother and Daddy celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary together with the saints in heaven,” Bonnie Burks Gray said. “About 2 p.m. Mother had a massive heart attack. She left us about the same time I imagine she pledged her life to Dad by saying ‘I do’ in 1944.”

Gray said her mother and father never had passed had a cross word between them.

She recalled the story of how her parents met.

Joe Burks was a young marine just home from the South Pacific who was taking a ride around the square in Hodgenville when he saw her coming out of the theater (Mary Anderson Theater) where she worked. He told his brother, Bill, to stop the car.

‘“See that girl coming down the steps – I’m gong to marry her,’ he told his brother. With that he jumped out the car and bound up the steps two at a time,” Gray said.

The couple married in Hodgenville and lived there until Joe was hired by Deere & Company in Nashville, Tenn.

Gray’s story is similar to other tales of devotion that Burks' friends told.

When Joe Burks had to go to a nursing home, his wife went with him, and they stayed at Amber Oaks until he died in January 2011. Mary Burks stayed on there, until she was hospitalized recently. Then she went to Crestview, where she stayed only briefly, until passing away April 1.

Dean Windsor, executive director of Amber Oaks, said he had never seen a couple more devoted to each other.

“Joe couldn't see very well, and Mary would help him. They supported each other in everything they did,” he said. “I'm not trying to be sappy here, but you could truly see their love for each other in their eyes. When they would smile at each other and look at each other that way ... well, they just had a very special love that lasted forever.”

Mary Burks was born Dec. 3, 1921, in Rhineland, Mo., and moved to Kentucky with her family when she was 14.

A judge for the National African Violet Society, she developed new strains of the flowers and created clubs in three states.

She also was co-owner of the local John Deere dealership with her husband in the 1950s. She was a district manager for World Book Encyclopedia, was heavily involved in community organizations and was very active in her church, Centenary United Methodist.

She and Joe had six children, Bonnie, Joseph E. Burks II, Carl David Burks, Mark Athel Burks, Paul Morgan Burks and John Jay Crittendon Burks.

Ann Gullett of Shelbyville recalled her friend's love for animals.

“When she and I were out on one of our jaunts, sometimes we would see a turtle in the road, and we would always have to stop so she could pick it up and take it home to her garden,” Gullett said.

Burks’ love of humanity and animals extended to all living things, her friend Jane Mitchell said.

“She loved flowers and gardening, and she loved helping people,” Mitchell said. “She was so kind. She meant so much to me. I treasured her friendship, and I will miss her, but I know that she is happy now, because she is with Joe again. She loved him so much.”

Gullett said she would miss Burks very much, too.

“I will never be able to go to Tractor Supply or Metzger's and look at the flowers and baby chicks and ducklings without thinking of her,” she said.

Another friend, Duanne Puckett, who served as an honorary pallbearer, calls her a “one of a kind.”

“I hold dear memories in my heart,” she said.