Obituary: Former Gazette sports columnist Tim Burke was 'a rascal'

He wrote for the paper from 1971 to 1988, when the Canadiens and Alouettes were winning championships and Expos became “Team of the ’80s.”

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They don’t make them like Tim Burke anymore.

Burke was a sports columnist at The Gazette from 1971 until 1988, when he left to join the short-lived Montreal Daily News.

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It was a thrilling period for sports in Montreal with the Canadiens and Alouettes winning championships — six Stanley Cups and two Grey Cups — and the Expos becoming the “Team of the ’80s.” It was also a time when journalists worked hard and partied even harder.

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In 1972, Burke won a National Newspaper Award for sports for his three-part series on the history of Black athletes in Montreal.

“We celebrated that,” Gazette cartoonist Terry Mosher (Aislin), who was one of Burke’s closest friends, recalled with a chuckle Thursday. “We’d celebrate about the drop of a pin back then.”

Burke, who Mosher described as a “fantastic writer,” died Wednesday at age 90. He had been hospitalized for seven days, originally for an infection in his heel, and his health deteriorated after that.

Burke’s son, Tom, said his father still followed the Montreal sports scene closely before his death and enjoyed reading The Gazette, the National Post, the Saturday Wall Street Journal and the tabloid New York Post.

“My dad always loved the concept of a cool, big-city tabloid,” Burke’s son said. “That’s why in the end he jumped at the chance and took the leap of faith to go to the Montreal Daily News. A hard-hitting, fun tabloid was for him a new challenge, a new, interesting voyage after everything he had done — and that goes back to the Montreal Herald.”

Burke’s journalism career started at the Montreal Herald in 1955 and he later became a city columnist for the Montreal Star. Former Gazette sports editors Ted Blackman and Brodie Snyder hired him away from the Star in the fall of 1971 to become a sports columnist. The 1971-72 season was Guy Lafleur’s rookie year with the Canadiens.

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“Henri Richard was my dad’s favourite athlete of all-time because of what a great guy he was, how tough he was,” Burke’s son said. “But there was a special bond between him and Guy Lafleur because they joined, shall we say, the travelling circus right at the same time and my dad always got a huge kick out of Guy Lafleur.”

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Burke also got a kick out of Chris Nilan. The last sports column Burke wrote for The Gazette was published on Jan. 29, 1988, after the Canadiens had traded Nilan to the New York Rangers.

“Chris Nilan leaves behind a legacy in Montreal that will not be forgotten,” Burke wrote. “Not only did he serve his team and his fans beyond all expectations, he surpassed himself in bringing some happiness into the lives of the less fortunate children of the community. For all that, he deserves our lasting gratitude.”

After learning about Burke’s death, Nilan said: “Tim was one of the good guys that covered the Habs back in the day. He was a character and a good man.”

Burke’s son said his dad still enjoyed his beer, rum-and-cokes and the odd martini, along with his cigarettes right up until the end. Burke never had a driver’s licence, walking or taking the bus or taxis to get wherever he needed to go around own.

“My dad still loved his CFL football and had a new-found, extra enthusiasm with baseball because of the phenom story of (Shohei) Ohtani,” Burke’s son said. “My dad loved that story and how good this guy is. He was also invigorated by the World Baseball Classic. He was riveted to that.”

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Mosher has many fond memories of those glory days in Montreal sports when Burke was covering it all and they were partying together downtown.

“He was a rascal … he was a fellow rascal because I was quite the character back in those days myself,” said Mosher, adding he finally got a handle on his own drinking in 1985. “He was a rascal and I loved him for it.

“I’m 81 years old now and every couple of months I have to cross a few more names off my address book,” Mosher added. “But this one is particularly hard. I hadn’t seen Tim in a long time but, God, I loved the man.”

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