Dick Burke is officially retired after more than two decades at the helm of the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC), leaving behind a lasting legacy for the association.
Burke left his position as executive director on Aug. 1, 22 years to the day after taking on the role. With decades of experience in the association behind him, Burke felt comfortable passing the torch and watching MAC’s future unfold with new leadership at the helm.
“I thought the time was definitely right for me, but definitely right for the association as well,” Burke told The Missouri Times. “The organization needs to move forward, and I think they will be making some changes and trying to serve the members in better ways. I’m excited for them. I wish them all the success in the world.”
Born in Kansas City but raised in mid-Missouri, Burke joined MAC in 1985 at age 28 when he began handling legislative affairs with the association, primarily focusing on the legislature and internal policies. Returning to the state after working in Washington, D.C., Burke put his roots back down in the Show-Me State and ascended to the top of the organization by the turn of the century.
MAC saw many legislative successes during Burke’s tenure, including the expansion of County Aid Road Trust (CART) funds. After supporting the motor fuel tax increase in 1992, MAC secured 15 percent of the increase from the added revenue for counties. Burke said the team worked closely with the Missouri Farm Bureau to facilitate one of the association’s most “serious major accomplishments.”
“I was happy to be a part of it and play a small role, hopefully. Timing is everything, and the timing was right,” Burke said. “For our support, the legislature gave us a constitutional amendment that gave the counties an additional 5 percent of the CART funds on the new tax and anything that followed. But then we had to get it passed by the voters, too. We worked closely with the Farm Bureau. That was monumental because it meant hundreds of millions of dollars in money for counties for roads and bridges.”
Another success was the expansion of a self-insured workers’ compensation fund. Burke said the program began in 1987 with no guarantee it would be successful. It has since grown into the MAC Trust, a program covering 90 member counties.
“Dick is what any organization would want for their executive,” said Tim Brinker, Franklin County’s presiding commissioner. “The values displayed in his actions made him a prized ambassador for all counties in Missouri. Missouri counties are truly better because Dick Burke was at the helm!”
“He worked his way to the top of the organization and is a wealth of knowledge and well respected inside the state as well as by his peers around the country,” Cape Girardeau County Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said. “He and his wonderful wife Dana are a class act and will be missed. I wish him fair winds and following seas.”
“He’s always been pleasant to work with and ready to take care of business, and he always made sure he had a great staff to make sure the organization always ran smoothly,” said Rep. Rodger Reedy, who also serves as the Benton County assessor.
Burke, now 68, noted retirement was a bit of an adjustment. While life away from the association might take some getting used to, he’s looking forward to setting his own schedule.
“My wife and I have never been able to go anywhere warm in the wintertime because our annual meeting was in November and then the legislature kicked in Nov. 1 to April or May, whenever session was over,” he said. “We couldn’t go anywhere in the winter. We’ve never taken a warm-weather winter trip. Maybe next year we’re going to do that.”
Burke said he owed his success in the role to his predecessor, Juanita Donehue. Donehue, who served in the role for 20 years and received national recognition, gave him the opportunity to lead the group in her stead when she retired in 1999. Donahue died in 2012
“She gave me a chance, and she believed in me and thought I should have the director’s job 22 years ago,” he said. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have that position had it not been for her support. She worked really hard.”
Burke is looking forward to the next generation of MAC leadership as well; Audrain County Presiding Commissioner Steve Hobbs is taking the helm beginning in mid-September. Hobbs praised Burke’s work and the impact he had made on the organization over the decades.
“I have some tremendous shoes to fill,” Hobbs said. “Dick has so much perspective and institutional knowledge since working with the association since 1985. He’s been extremely gracious and supportive. While Dick is retiring, the love for the organization is there and he’s going to be an example for us every day.”
Burke said he would continue to be a resource for MAC as needed. After all, he found himself right where he belonged during his tenure there.
“I enjoyed it,” Burke said. “I met a lot of great people across the state and around the country. I don’t know what else I could have done. I had a really nice career.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn contributed to this report.
Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.
Contact Cameron at email@example.com.