Donald K. Burdick, a teacher whose love for family and education was matched only by his passion for the Johns Hopkins University men's lacrosse team, died Friday of bladder cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 56 and lived in Perry Hall.
A history and social studies teacher in Baltimore City schools for 31 years, Mr. Burdick was known for his rapport with his students, some of whom he kept in contact with for 35 years.
"He never looked at us as just being students, he wanted to relate to us," said David Reck, who first met Mr. Burdick at Hamilton Junior High School in the late 1960s and later at Northern High School before becoming a teacher himself. "He found the good in all kids."
Mr. Burdick was born and raised in Baltimore and graduated from City College. He earned a bachelor's degree from Towson University and master's degrees from Morgan State University and Johns Hopkins.
He also taught courses at several local colleges and the Talmudical Academy.
Mr. Burdick, who late in his career tutored ill students in the city schools' Home and Hospital Services program, retired from the system in September 1999. Twelve days later, his cancer was diagnosed.
As a patient, Mr. Burdick set himself apart. "Most patients go through one complete course of chemotherapy or two. He went through five," said Dr. Stephen Jacobs, chief of urology at the University of Maryland Medical System. "His spirit was incredible. And it's phenomenal what he did with his kids. We couldn't bring him in here without a hundred kids clogging up the room."
Among the "kids" were members of the Hopkins lacrosse team. An alumnus who was called Hopkins' No. 1 lacrosse booster, Mr. Burdick was such a fan that when his first major cancer surgery fell on a game day in March 2000, he asked for a radio and headphones tuned to the game in case he had any lucid moments during the anesthesia.
At the start of the 2002 season, coach Dave Pietramala brought Mr. Burdick into the locker room to talk to the team about his struggles and his devotion to Hopkins lacrosse.
"I'm an emotional person, but I just sat there with chills," said attackman Peter LeSueur, who began carrying a 2001 Sun article about Mr. Burdick with him to games as inspiration.
Added now-graduated goalie Nick Murtha: "He was always with us, whether he felt well or not. It was the coaches, the players and Mr. Burdick. And we'd think, 'You know what, games are tough, school's tough, but there's a bigger picture. And if he's sitting there fighting for his life, the least we can do is to give it our all.'"
Inspired enough to scrawl "DB" on their chinstraps, a young Blue Jays team advanced to the 2002 national semifinals in Piscataway, N.J., losing to Princeton, 11-9. Mr. Burdick was there, using the Hopkins president's pass.
This past season, his health deteriorating, he attended fewer games, and those in a wheelchair. But he still made it to the locker room afterward.
He went directly from the hospital to Hopkins' quarterfinal win over Towson. Rushed to the emergency room the morning of the semifinal against Syracuse at Ravens stadium, he demanded to be in a room by 11:30 a.m. - game time. Mr. Burdick watched the championship game against Virginia from a hospital bed where the nurses hung Hopkins streamers. As the 9-7 loss to Virginia ended, he wept, not for himself but saying, "I should be there for my boys."
"It was funny when he talked about his kids to other people and they'd say, 'What do you mean, your kids?' and he was talking about the lacrosse team or ... the former students he stayed close to," said Kristin Bull, one of Mr. Burdick's two children. "I always got a kick out of that."
Friends also got a kick out of his frankness.
"You didn't leave an encounter with Don and say, 'I wonder what he meant by that.' He had things he liked and plenty that he didn't," Mr. Reck said.
Gary Levin, a former teaching colleague, lauded Mr. Burdick's honesty and recalled a day in the 1960s when a teacher at Hamilton had her hair frosted and went into the faculty room the next day. "A couple of teachers said, 'Oh, I like your hair that way,' and Don said, 'I don't. I think it looked better the other way.' You don't say that to a woman, but that was Don."
Mr. Burdick's death is "a sad day for a lot of people," Mr. Pietramala said, "and a sad day for Hopkins lacrosse."
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. July 27 at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, 9534 Belair Road, Perry Hall.
Mr. Burdick is also survived by his wife of nearly 35 years, the former Carol Hall; a son, Gregory Burdick of Logansville, Pa.; and two grandsons.
Donations may be made to the John D. Young Fund, c/o Dr. Stephen Jacobs, 22 Greene St., Baltimore 21201; GU Research at University of Maryland Baltimore Foundation, c/o Dr. Nancy Dawson, 22 Greene St., Baltimore 21201; or the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21218.