Vivian Burke dies after four decades on Winston-Salem City Council

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Vivian Burke died Tuesday evening, her son, Judge Todd Burke said early Wednesday morning, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“She loved the City of Winston-Salem and her beloved constituents of the Northeast Ward whom she proudly served 43 years,” Todd Burke said in a statement sent to the Journal. “My mother had become an icon in this community and beyond in the way she distinguished herself through public service for over four!decades. There will be no other like her.”

Burke was married to a state representative, had a son who became a Forsyth County judge, and a daughter-in-law on the school board. But her four-decade-long city council career may be the most lasting legacy of them all.

Burke was a native of Charlotte and got started in politics at an early age, knocking on doors and canvassing neighborhoods as a high schooler for Kelly M. Alexander, a civil rights leader who was then running for Charlotte’s city council.

In 1977, Alderman Carl H. Russell decided to give up his seat to run for mayor. That opened the door for Burke to make her first run for office. She was 43 and worked as a counselor at Lowrance Intermediate School. Her husband served as her campaign manager, and teenage son Todd did volunteer work. She handily won the Democratic primary and beat her Republican opponent in a landslide.

She would go more than 40 years without ever losing a council race.

Mayor Allen Joines released the following statement on Burke’s death Wednesday:

“Council Member Vivian Burke was a remarkable woman who leaves a legacy of accomplishment that shaped the city that is Winston-Salem today. Throughout her 43 years on the City Council she was a tireless leader and advocate for equal rights and equal opportunities for all of our citizens. She initiated the establishment of the Human Relations Department to work for better race relations, and initiated the city’s Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Program to ensure inclusiveness in city purchasing and contracting practices. She lent her talents to a tremendous number of boards for local and statewide organizations and was instrumental in organizing the Black Political Action League and the N.C. Black Elected Municipal Officials Association. Her death leaves a void in our civic life that cannot be easily filled, and on behalf of all city employees and the citizens of Winston-Salem I extend to her family my deepest sympathies.”

Winston-Salem State University Chancellor Elwood Robinson released the following statement on Burke’s death Wednesday:

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Winston-Salem Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke. Dr. Burke was an icon in the community with 43 years of service to the city and its constituents. When she was elected to the Winston-Salem City Council, she was one of the first two African-American women elected to the board. Throughout her more than four decades of service, she fought for the African-American community and for our university. Dr. Burke served as a member of WSSU’s Board of Trustees during a time of great change and transformation. Her leadership contributed to the development of the university’s first doctoral degrees, the construction of the Donald J. Reaves Student Activities Center, and the renovation of Hill Hall. Her entire life exemplified the WSSU motto of “Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.” Her work has left an indelible mark on our community. We acknowledge the great loss to the world as a result of her passing and offer our condolences to her family during this difficult time.”

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