Taxes, and Death

Remembering Richard Burke, who made the inscrutable world of finances smooth for clients like me.

Richard Burke was, I assume, a shy man. I know he was a sci-fi fan, or at least had a notable quantity of Star Trek (or Star Wars?) memorabilia on his desk the one time I met him more than 15 years ago.

He enjoyed travel during the tax off-season, with trips to Russia and Europe. He had a sardonic, wry sense of humor, was mild-mannered on the phone, but with occasional outbursts of scorn for political idiocies, not just the recent ones but all the time I’ve known him.

Mostly I knew Richard through what he could do. He was at the forefront helping gay people deal with the weird and wild tax situation as domestic partnership and marriage wobbled through California and Federal law. He incorporated my business, not because I was a savvy business person who requested it, but because I said OK when he told me it would save me twice what it would cost me to set up in the first year. So suddenly there was a corporation and I was the owner and also the employee and there was payroll and… I signed the papers and did what he said. I learned this is the way the world works.

Richard Burke

He was a shrewd financial helper who had strong opinions about national politics, but saw his job as helping those of us not literate in the ways of money to make the best of it. I would love to see a more rational, just, and simple tax system, but in the meantime may we all be blessed with someone like Richard to come along at the right time and help us out.

Of course the things we should be thankful for are clearer after the fact. In the last few years I interacted with Richard less. He seemed busy and more curt, but mostly I was more self sufficient, and dealing with small children. I sent him numbers, he sent me tax returns. There wasn’t much chat. He always came through with what I needed, though something felt off, and I groused about his grumpiness. He talked about selling his business to a younger associate and working less, and I thought he might be burned out. He’d worked hard. He deserved a nice retirement.

What I didn’t know is that the last few years he was dealing with serious illness, and treatment. I don’t know what it was but he had a remission last year and was working again. He was so good I didn’t realize there was a point he wasn’t working.

But then suddenly, I guess in early December, he wasn’t working. He died unexpectedly.

I didn’t find out at first. When I did, I felt ashamed of my impatience and frustration with him. I had no idea any of this had been going on! Worse, my next thoughts were for myself. Who will deal with my corporation and taxes and payroll, how will I get my W2?

But like most financial and legal things, the W2s will be dealt with. The taxes will get paid, penalties if there are any dealt with. There are other angels out there who will help me make sense of the legal and financial.

It’s the shock of unexpected loss that I’m feeling, the frailty of human life. It seems incredible that someone who did his thing so silently, made my life easier since around the turn of the new millennium, could just disappear. I wish I’d known he was ill. I wish I’d had a more personal connection with him. He helped me with some of the most intimate things in my life—not only my business but adoption credits, complicated marriage dealings, at least as far as the IRS and State of California are concerned. I can see clearly that he was an important, and underappreciated, part of my life.

Thank you, Richard. You were a good, kind man, and you helped me a lot. May you rest in peace.

By David Kerr | Filed Under: Humanity

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