"She was so good at what she did, working with the children," Marlene Jackson, who taught alongside Ms. Burke for several years in city elementary schools, said. "Oh yes, she was A-1."
Born Mary Ann White in New York City, Ms. Burke moved to Baltimore as a young girl. Her father, the Rev. Arthur White, founded the Cherry Hill United Methodist Church. She later moved with her parents to Ellicott City, after her father began serving Mount Zion United Methodist Church there.
A graduate of Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore, Ms. Burke credited city public schools with developing "her thirst for knowledge and her determined desire to succeed," her daughter, Pilar C. Nelson, said.
Ms. Burke's sister, Jean Miller, said "the family considered Mary to be the 'Wiz Kid,' and our personal dictionary."
Ms. Burke attended Morgan State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree. She later was awarded a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.
She began her 30-year-plus education career in the mid-1950s; over the next three decades, she would teach at multiple levels, from kindergarten to the 12th grade. She taught at several city elementary schools, according to her daughter, including Commodore John Rogers Elementary in Butcher's Hill. She ended her full-time teaching career at Lake Clifton High School in the mid-1980s.
"She loved the kids," Ms. Nelson said of her mother. "Even after she retired, she substituted at many area elementary schools."
Mrs. Jackson said she and Ms. Burke went way back — even though they didn't initially realize it. Both women graduated from Douglass High in 1951, although neither remembered the other.
"I didn't meet her until I became a teacher," Ms. Jackson said. "We taught together off and on for about five years. She was excellent; she always did a good job."
Her mother took great pains to ensure her children minded their grammar and always spoke properly, Ms. Nelson recalled. "She loved words, she really did," she said. "It came so natural. It was what you heard in the house, so you really didn't know any other way."
She was always eager to talk about family history, the latest political happenings and her knowledge of the Bible, Ms. Nelson added.
Ms. Burke attended the Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, where she was an active member of the Busy Bees, a social group whose members would take trips, attend shows and share meals together.
Ms. Burke's husband, Bernie Luther Burke, who taught science and math at Lafayette Elementary School for many years, died in 1993.
In addition to her daughter, who lives in Baltimore, and her sister, who lives in Bowie, Ms. Burke is survived by two other sisters, Lillie Thaniel and Meredith White, both of Baltimore; a brother, Robert White, of Baltimore; and a stepson, Bernie Burke Jr., of Baltimore. She is also survived by four grandchildren.
Services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. today at Gillis Memorial Christian Community Church, 4016 Park Heights Ave.