William L. Burch, a retired Baltimore police officer who raised his three children as a single father, died of heart failure Tuesday at his daughter's home in Hampstead. He was 62.
A longtime resident of Randallstown, Mr. Burch delighted in fishing, motorcycle riding, and teaching baseball and poker to his children and grandchildren. He made up nicknames for everyone he knew.
He maintained several collections, including guns, memorabilia from World War II and the Old West, and old gas pumps. Family and friends loved to visit his house, which his children said resembled a museum.
"It was the coolest place in the world," said a son, Matt Burch of Clear Brook, Va. "He just had a knack for decorating."
At the time of his death, Mr. Burch was in the process of moving into an apartment built off his daughter's house. He took great care in deliberating which of his collectible items to bring along - and which of his relatives and friends would inherit the items he left behind. One of his prized possessions was a 19th-century cash register. The daughter, Bridget Hyatt, said he was "just so comical and very, very eccentric."
A Baltimore native, Mr. Burch was the second of three children. His father ran a business that repaired neon signs.
Mr. Burch graduated from Forest Park High School. As a young man, he worked as a bank teller. He decided on a career in law enforcement after a robbery at the bank. "Somebody held up the bank and put a gun in his face, and he said, 'I'll never be on the other side of a gun again,"' said another son, Billy Burch of West Chester, Pa.
Hoping to serve in the Vietnam War, Mr. Burch tried to enlist in the military, but he was turned away because a childhood accident had left him legally blind in one eye. So in 1966, he joined the city police force instead.
For years, he was a foot patrolman, responsible for the area bounded by Saratoga Street to the north, Baltimore Street to the south, Park Avenue to the east, and Howard Street to the west.
He married and had three children. But when the kids were in elementary school, his wife moved out and divorced him. "He did everything he could and raised us himself," Billy Burch said.
Every summer, he would take them to the ocean. He also coached their baseball and softball teams, throwing balls to them for hours, and he frequently took them to Orioles games.
"I sat on the porch with him a lot of nights, drinking iced tea, watching the cars go by, listening to the Orioles game," Billy Burch said.
In the Police Department, Mr. Burch was known for exemplary attendance. "He was like the Cal Ripken of the Police Department," Billy Burch said. "He would go in sick. I remember a snowstorm one time. It was real bad. He had to hitch a ride with an oil truck."
Mr. Burch spent more than 23 years as a police officer, working in drug enforcement, before his retirement in 1990. Despite an unpredictable work schedule, he tried never to miss church on Sunday mornings. "Even when he was on the midnight shift, he and his buddies would go to Mass at 7 a.m.," Billy Burch said.
Mr. Burch was a member of Holy Family Church in Randallstown. When he went to church straight from work, he attended St. Alphonsus Church in Baltimore.
About a year ago, Mr. Burch suffered a small aneurysm, and his doctors recommended that he not continue to live alone. He slowly began the move to the apartment off Ms. Hyatt's house. And every weekend, he went with his daughter and her family to their beach house in Ocean City.
"He would fish for eight hours a day," Ms. Hyatt said. "He'd smoke a cigar, drink his Bud Light and fish. Everybody knew him."
He loved to read about American history, and he enjoyed showing his collectors items as a way to share history with others. He had an ongoing poker game with Ms. Hyatt's 7-year-old son, using fake money. In his casket, his family left a royal flush in his sleeve.
Services have been held.
In addition to his children, Mr. Burch is survived by his mother, Thelma Knapp of Towson; a brother, Robert Burch of Eldersburg; a sister, Betty Ann Granek of Carolina Beach, N.C.; and 10 grandchildren.