Friday, May 2, 2014

Sign Keeps Legacy Of Lee Burchill Alive

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 2, 2014.
By Bill Gouveia


            This Saturday, Norton Youth Baseball will begin its 60th year of operation (according to unofficial records).  The Opening Day ceremonies will be held and a new sign dedicated at the fields on Plain Street known as the Lee Burchill Complex.


            You may have driven past the fields, taken children to practice or play there, or just driven by and seen the old Burchill sign.  Maybe you wondered who Lee Burchill was, and why the fields were named after him.  Maybe you saw it and the thought never crossed your mind.


But people from Norton, and folks in general, need to know this story.  And since there are fewer and fewer townies like me left who have known and admired Lee and his family, there is a need for the story to be told.


Lee Burchill was a Norton High School senior in the fall of 1972.  A good all-around athlete with a quick laugh and cocky attitude, he could both make you laugh and tick you off with equal ability. 


On this particular fall afternoon he had just led his football team to a near upset of heavily-favored Case High School.  After the game, the young quarterback went to the home of his best friend in neighboring Taunton. 


While there, Lee was somehow shot in the head by his friend.  It was ruled accidental, though there were many who questioned it.  The only thing we know for sure is - that day life was forever changed for Lee and his family..


With shotgun pellets lodged in his head, Lee became a quadriplegic.  It was a miracle he survived at all.  He would spend the next nine years immobile and in considerable pain before passing away.


But those nine years were far from unproductive.  Lee took on his physical limitations like he did everything prior to the shooting – as a challenge.


A little over a year from the incident, he did the unthinkable.  Through tutoring and hard work, he earned his high school diploma.  We teased him and asked what took him so long.  He laughed along with us at the joke. 


But there he was in May of 1974, in cap and gown, being wheeled down the aisle by his football coach to graduate with my class.


To see what Lee went through on a daily basis was astounding.  His courage was inspirational.  Perhaps just as much so was how his family stayed by him and sacrificed for him.  Though in truth, they never seemed to consider it sacrifice.


His mother Rita was an amazing woman who helped take wonderful care of both her sons.  I say both because Lee’s younger brother Joey suffered from a long illness and also died at a young age.  It all took a toll on Rita, who passed away far too soon.


            That left Lee’s dad Fred as the lone surviving family member.  After suffering the death of his wife and two sons, no one would have blamed him if he chose to wallow in despair and let what was left of his life fall apart. 


            But it is clear where Lee got the courage and determination he showed in his life.  He obviously inherited it from his father. 


Fred remains a Norton resident to this day, and is a regular visitor to the family grave. Most of us cannot imagine what he has been through, but all of us can appreciate the courage and class with which he has done it.


            The new Lee Burchill Complex sign could easily refer to their entire family – but it doesn’t.  It is in honor of Lee, who received the rawest of deals from life and strove to overcome it.  A self-assured, self-confident teenager who suddenlly had to rely on others to take care of his most basic of needs.  A young athlete no longer able to walk, but working hard at it until the day he died.


            The next time you go by the sign at the Burchill field, see if it looks any different now that you know the story.  That sign is the symbol of a town’s respect for one of its own, and intended to help guarantee the story of Lee Burchill is passed on to future generations.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and lifelong Norton resident.  He can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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