Eight Bells: Louise Kevin Burke
Published on June 24th, 2020
Louise Kevin Burke, 85, of Annapolis MD, passed away on June 16, 2020 in Danvers, MA. Born in Swampscott, MA, Louise was the daughter of the late Edward and Marguerite Kevin. Louise attended Swampscott schools and graduated from Swampscott High School in 1952.
She worked as a computer programmer at General Electric in Lynn, MA. In 1962 she married Les Burke, and shortly after they bought a sailboat and enjoyed sailing and scuba diving together. In 1970 they decided to take the big leap and sold everything to move aboard the 52-foot custom sloop “Avatar” as professional skippers.
They sailed south to the Caribbean where they chartered the yacht for George Baker, its New York owner. But tragedy struck in April of 1972 when Les suffered a heart attack aboard Avatar and died a month later. Widowed at 37, that fall Louise decided that the beach was no place for her and she returned to Avatar and the Bakers and sailed away the hurt, logging over 15,000 miles astern.
In 1976, Louise was introduced to Alexander Graham Bell Grosvenor, descendant of the telephone inventor, who helped establish the US Naval Academy’s sailing program by soliciting donations of large racing sailboats for the fleet. Grosvenor invited Louise to join the Naval Academy as its first female sailing instructor.
At the time of her hiring, the Academy received the donation of the 82-foot Herreshoff schooner Mistral. Mistral was slated to be the US Navy’s representative celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 1977 Silver Jubilee in the Humble River Review. In mid-May, Louise, along with 12 midshipmen, a retired army general, and two ensigns set out for England and arrived, after a succession of wet cold gales, 48 hours before the review.
Mistral then set out for a circumnavigation of the Atlantic Ocean logging 9,300 nautical miles in 66 days. Louise averaged 8,000 miles a year of mostly heavy duty offshore sailing aboard Mistral while teaching safety at sea, piloting, celestial navigation, and even weather broadcasting for NOAA.
Louise eventually rose to the position of Director of the Naval Academy’s offshore racing program which grew to a fleet of 12 donation boats from 40 to 68 feet, 12 J/24s and 190 midshipmen which at the time was the largest sailing team in the world. After 14 years with the Naval Academy she retired but stayed involved as a Trustee of US Navy Sailing and helped with the Vets on the Bay program.
Louise traveled extensively both sailing and scuba diving around most of the world from Siberia to Antarctica, through the Atlantic and Europe and many islands of the Pacific down to Tasmania. She lived an incredible life which she chronicles in her biography titled “Aye, Aye, Sir, Ma’am” to be published posthumously.
As a trailblazer for woman in professional yachting she was recently nominated for induction into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. Louise was a founding member of the Eastport Yacht Club in Annapolis, a member and served on the board of the Explorers Club in Washington DC, and was one of the originators of US Sailing’s Safety at Sea program. She was also the first woman to be invited to join the prestigious Storm Trysail Club.
Louise is survived by her brother Paul and his wife Maryann of Danvers, her niece Tara Kevin and her wife Shelli of Beverly, nephews Matthew Kevin and his wife Stephanie of Rowley, grand-nephews Conor and Bryce Kevin of Rowley, nephew Timothy Kevin of Pittsfield, VT, and sister-in-law Carole Kevin of Venice, FL. She was predeceased by her brother Peter Kevin of Venice, FL.
ARRANGEMENTS: At this time all services are private. A celebration of Louise’s life will be held at a date and time to be announced. Sharing written remembrances and condolences, during this time will be essential in helping Louise’s family reminisce, celebrate and heal. To share your memories of Louise: www.odonnellfuneralservice.com.