I’m deeply shocked to learn of the death of Burl Burlingame

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

After our tour of Ford Island in 2015, we dropped by our Alma Mater to pay respects.

Y’all know I’m not a big Facebook user. So I had to return to America to learn that my high school friend and blog regular Burl Burlingame had died suddenly on the Ides of March — just two days after we left for Ireland.

I had just gotten into the office this morning, and Lora said she had been looking for Ireland pictures on my Facebook (there were none — I was putting them all on Twitter), and she noticed that my friend had died. That’s how I learned about it.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.

His most recent FB profile photo, from 2018.


“Sudden” was the way his passing was described. It was certainly that from my perspective.

Wow. The world has lost an extraordinary person. Even in high school, Burl was a Renaissance Man — writer, photographer, cartoonist, musician, actor. Wherever you looked, Burl was there and playing a major role. Larger than life. Before I had even done so much as work on a school paper, he wrote, illustrated and published his own underground newspaper in which he regularly referred to our principal, Mr. Yamamoto — who was seldom seen by students — as the Ghost Who Walks. He used to carry around a briefcase with multiple harmonicas in it, which he could really, really play. When he portrayed the secret policeman in the senior class production of Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” his was easily the most memorable performance.

Burl in 1971.

Burl in 1971.

As an adult, he just expanded on all of that. Like me, he spent 35 years as a newspaperman, but while I was concentrating on that one thing, Burl was making his mark in other spheres — writing books on military history, becoming a master modeler (of course, like most of us, he had taken up that hobby as a kid, but then turned pro), and establishing himself as probably the leading expert in the world on Japanese minisubs. So it was perfectly natural when he left the paper to become staff historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum.

I feel privileged that I got to reconnect with Burl, through this blog, almost 40 years after we graduated from Radford High School together. And I’m glad I got to see him twice in recent years, first when he gave my wife and me a personal tour of his museum and Ford Island, and again when he came to Columbia for an international modelers convention.

And I’m having trouble absorbing the fact that I’ll never see him again in this life.

On Ford Island in 2015.

On Ford Island in 2015. Note the rainbow.

15 thoughts on “I’m deeply shocked to learn of the death of Burl Burlingame

  1. Pat

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve enjoyed reading about him and reading his contributions to your column over the years.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I am shocked, too. I am so sorry for your loss and the family’s loss and the world’s loss!

  3. Dave Crockett

    I never had any conversation with Burl but I, too, enjoyed his comments….hearing about your friendship…and occasionally reading his blog. He will be missed and remembered by many.

  4. Bart

    One of the things on his blog I really enjoyed were his movie reviews. Burl saw the world in a uniquely honest way and was able to translate thoughts into words that were understandable and without embellishment when conveying an idea or making a point. If one couldn’t understand what he was trying to convey, they didn’t or don’t have a very good level of comprehension or reasonable command of the English language.

    My condolences to you Brad and your family along with Burl’s. Time and distance cannot diminish a true friendship.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Y’all, by way of reminiscing, I thought I’d share a couple of pics I’d shared earlier on the blog of Burl during his newspaper career — something he did a far better job of documenting than I did.

    Here he is interviewing Lt. Uhura from Star Trek, who is taking no chances with him.

    And here he is getting up close and personal with another subject. Burl’s memory of that: “I wish I could remember her name. She was very sharp and very funny, and sort of bemused by the whole beer babe gig.”

  6. Doug Ross

    He was very gracious to me and my family several years ago by providing a private guided tour of the museum at Pearl Harbor. He was a good man. Condolences to his family and friends.

  7. bud

    I didn’t know Burl personally but his writing here were wonderful. Sorry to learn of his loss.

  8. Mary Poole-Burlingame

    Aloha, Brad. Thank you for writing about my brilliant, creative, witty, mad and occasionally maddening —shards of plastic from building model airplanes buried in the carpeting! — husband Burl Burlingame. He was the most interesting person I ever met and I was lucky to spend my life with him. Renewing your high school friendship after so many years gave him great pleasure. Thanks to your readers as well for their words of sympathy.
    Mahalo, Mary Poole-Burlingame

  9. Phillip

    Very sad to hear this, I enjoyed reading his comments here and from everything you had always said he just seemed like a truly remarkable guy. Having a friend from your young years on through your life, even if you only rarely see one another in person, is a special thing, and a hard loss to process. I’m so sorry for your (and his family’s and other friends’ ) loss.

  10. Bob Amundson

    “… [I]t seems the good die young But I just looked around and he’s gone. Didn’t you love the things they stood for? Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?”

  11. Katharine Weber

    Hi Brad. This is my first birthday in 51 years (yes, you read that right) that I haven’t had Burl to wish me a Happy Birthday. In fact, I have never gone this long without talking to him. The void he left in my life is enormous. He died 11 days after he turned 66, the age I turned today. It is a world I never even imagined.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for sharing that, Kathy Shockley…

      I see our class is starting to talk about the 50th reunion. But what would be the point, if Burl’s not there? He’s the only member of the class I had stayed in touch with…

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