Ken Burke lived his life as a bold and courageous man; it was a trait he inherited from his tightknit family. And it was a quality that remained with him until he passed away this year in the Dr. Peter Residence, where he had lived for well over a decade.
When Ken came out to his family as a gay man in the early 1980s, his parents accepted him at a time that many young gay people were abandoned by their families. Ken’s strong family bonds would be tested – and proven again – a few years later when he tested positive for HIV.
“I was so proud of Ken and my whole family,” says Eileen Young, Ken’s sister. “In the ‘80s, HIV seemed like a death sentence, but Ken was always such an amazing fighter and so focused on the future that he showed us how to be brave.”
For many years, Ken remained relatively healthy despite his diagnosis. He worked for AIDS Vancouver as an Education Assistant and was a strong voice for AIDS awareness in Vancouver. He hired his sister Eileen to work with him after she graduated university in 1995. His family walked the AIDS Walk with Ken each year, and participated in many other AIDS fundraisers.
But by the mid-to-late ‘90s, Ken’s health was beginning to deteriorate. He had home care for a time, moved in with family for a while and, when his needs became even greater, he spent time in a hospice where his health deteriorated further.
“After a long time coping with this disease, Ken had got caught up in the orbit of street drugs,” says his brother Peter Burke. “He really needed 24/7 supervision.”
Ken moved into the Dr. Peter Centre residence, then located in St. Paul’s Hospital, and his health began to improve.
“Honestly, I feel like the Dr. Peter Centre gave me an extra decade with my brother,” says Eileen. “He was so fragile when he moved into the Centre and his health began to improve almost immediately when he arrived. Everyone cared for him so much at the Dr. Peter Centre. You could tell it was genuine.”
Ken’s father died in 2000 and his mother died in 2006. Eileen and Peter say that they are comforted knowing that their parents passed away confident that Ken was well looked after.
“It was really comforting for my parents to know that Ken was cared for somewhere that’s both so professional and so warm,” says Eileen.
“I know my mom was so relieved when Ken got a place at the Dr. Peter Center,” says Peter. “Over the years, we had so many good times with Ken.