Friday, May 16, 2014

Lee Burchill's Voice Reaches Out From Past

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 16, 2014

By Bill Gouveia



            Sometimes I write a column.  Other times, the column writes itself.  This is one of those latter instances.


            Editor Mike Kirby recently informed me I had received a letter at the newspaper office, and forwarded it on.  When I read it, the past seemed to be speaking to me.  I knew I had to share it with those who regularly read this space.


            Recently I wrote about the dedication of a new sign at the Lee Burchill Complex in Norton, and retold part of the story of the young man after who the fields were named.  He had been shot and paralyzed while still in high school.  Now suddenly, I was holding a letter from someone who had taken care of him during his many trips to the hospital.


            Your recent article on Lee Burchill is what prompted me to write”, the letter began.  It told of the writer working in a hospital and first meeting Lee long after he had been shot.  He wrote of Lee always being happy despite enduring tremendous pain.


            “He said it felt like electronic zaps.  A face cloth on his skin felt like a cheese grater”, the letter went on.  The author told of trips to visit Lee in Norton, and beeping at him as the paraplegic youngster would wheel himself around his Grove neighborhood.


            Then he revealed the final act of friendship he performed for Lee.  He was on duty at the hospital when Lee died, and took part in preparing his body for his final journey.


            The Head Nurse knew Lee was a friend, and told him he did not have to do this.  But our anonymous caring individual remembered saying, “I will do it for that exact reason, he was my friend.  I will help him pass into this next phase of life which will be pain-free for him”, he wrote.


            As touching and meaningful as his letter was, the author (anonymous here at his request) added another surprise.  He included two letters Lee had personally written to him months before he died, with the help of a special device (remember, this was 1981). 


            As my wife and I gazed down at the letters, we could almost hear Lee’s raspy voice emanating from the printed pages.  There was no doubt they were from him, as his trademark cockiness and sense of humor in the face of incredible challenges came through clearly.  Please allow me to share one dated February 18, 1981:


            “I just wanted to thank every one of you for your get well card and tell you all just how much it was appreciated.  Right now, I’m home from Tufts, but I’ll be going back in a few weeks for an operation.  I’m scheduled to have brain surgery.  You see, the doctors don’t think it’s fair for one man to be so intelligent.  So they’re simply going to remove half my brain.  You understand, don’t you?  It’s to give the other countries a chance.  It’s my duty as an American citizen.”


            He went on for a bit, then concluded by writing:  “Well, “The Burch” is going to take off now, but anytime you are in the area, don’t be afraid to drop over.  Again, I’d just like to thank all of you for taking such great care of me.  As a matter of fact, if I ever get shot again, I’ll be sure to make sure that I’m sent to you.”


            It was signed “Your satisfied patient, Lee Burchill (The Burch)”.


            This was written by a man who had spent the previous 8-1/2 years unable to walk and in constant pain.  An athlete known for his cockiness who now had to have even his most basic needs attended to by others.  A person who had every reason to give up and become bitter, yet remained able to appreciate the things others did for him.


            This kind soul who contacted me was so impressed by Lee that he still has these letters some 33 years later.  Lee had that kind of effect on people.


            It also reaffirms that the people of Norton didn’t name those baseball fields after Lee because he died.  They did it because of how he lived.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime local official.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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