Passages: Morgan J. Burke, Former Purdue Swimmer, Athletic Director

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Morgan J. Burke Aquatic Center Photo Courtesy: Purdue Athletics

Morgan J. Burke, a captain of the Purdue swim team in the 1970s who became his alma mater’s athletic director for nearly three decades, died Monday. Burke was 68 years old. He was diagnosed with amyloidosis a year ago.

Burke served as the athletic director from 1993-2016. He retired from the position and worked as the university’s vice president for special projects. Burke was the longest serving AD in school history and the fourth-longest at a Football Bowl Subdivision institution, as of his retirement.

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Purdue Athletic Director Morgan J. Burke, timing at the Big Ten Triple Duals meet in 2014. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

It started in the pool for Burke, who was regarded as “the athletics director who came down from the grandstands,” for his long-standing fandom at his alma mater. Burke won varsity letters in 1970, 1971 and 1973, the latter as a team captain. A member of Phi Beta Kappa and an industrial management major, Burke earned a master’s degree from Purdue in 1975 and a law degree at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago in 1980. He worked in private industry for two decades before returning to athletic administration at Purdue.

Among the capital projects that Burke invested in was the building of the Boilermaker Aquatic Center, which in 2017 was rechristened the Morgan J. Burke Aquatic Center.

He remained involved to the point that in 2014, at a tri-meet, Burke stepped in to serve as a lane timer.

Purdue won two team NCAA championships under Burke – the 1999 women’s basketball title and 2010 women’s golf crown – and 14 Boilermakers captured individual championships. Among those titles are six NCAA diving championships by David Boudia and two by Steele Johnson. (Johnson would win two more in 2017 after Burke’s retirement.)

Boudia tweeted his condolences Monday, saying, “A sad loss for Boilermaker Nation. I would not be at Purdue if it wasn’t for the hard work Morgan did to build the aquatic center and continued to do for all of Purdue athletes even after retirement. He is the epitome of a Purdue Boilermaker. Morgan, Thank you”

Burke’s accomplishments include the football team making 10 bowl games in a 12-season stretch, three consecutive Big Ten men’s basketball championships, 20 total regular-season Big Ten titles and 13 conference tournament crowns.

Among the remembrances from the university’s obituary are from university president Mitch Daniels:

“Morgan left an indelible mark on Purdue Athletics, and thousands of student-athletes benefitted from his faithful leadership. He was the ultimate competitor, and his passion for the Boilermakers was second to none. He continued to serve the university the last four years, doing everything he could to strengthen our mission. Our deepest condolences to Kate, Joyce, Morgan Jr. and Pat.”

From men’s basketball coach Matt Painter, who played at Purdue from 1990-93 and was hired in 2005:

“Not many people loved Purdue more than Morgan Burke. Morgan’s impact on Purdue Athletics was huge. He built a foundation for the modern program and impacted countless coaches, staff and student-athletes. Personally, I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for having the faith and confidence in me to lead our basketball program. To say I’m forever grateful to him for that would be an understatement. My heart goes out to Kate and their family.”

From Sharon Versyp, hired in 2006 as the women’s basketball coach:

“I am truly heartbroken today. We have lost a leader, a mentor and a dear friend. Purdue University has lost an icon. Morgan Burke dedicated his life to Purdue Athletics. I never met a person who carried as much passion for student-athletes and made it a point to learn and interact with them on an individual basis. His personal approach to leadership ensured that every Boilermaker knew that they were cared for and that they had a voice. Morgan focused on building Purdue Athletics into more than just a successful sports program. He wanted to equip every student-athlete who walked through our doors the tools to go out into the world and be a champion, a leader and a catalyst to make the world a better place. And for his entire tenure, he made that mission a reality.”

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