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In an alcove just outside the entrance to the Minnesota House chamber stands a bronze bust of Edward A. Burdick, the only living Minnesotan ever to be so honored at the State Capitol.
He started in the House as a 19-year-old page in 1941. He would stay for the next 60 years, becoming the longest-serving chief clerk in the country and a Minnesota icon for his knowledge of parliamentary procedure and overriding impartiality. Burdick died Wednesday, at 89.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, in a statement, called Burdick the "spirit of the Minnesota House of Representatives" and said that during his 38 years as chief clerk, he maintained "the decorum of the House with grace and dignity."
Over his career he schooled a dozen House speakers on the trickiest, most arcane parliamentary procedures, becoming a nationally recognized expert. As control of the House passed back and forth between DFLers and Republicans over the years, Burdick was the fixture who counseled them all.
When he retired in 2005, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty proclaimed Jan. 10 as "Edward A. Burdick Day."
Burdick, then 83, lamented: "I'm an old man. I can't stand those 14-, 15-hour days on the podium anymore." He had already tried to retire several times, but said serving in the House "was like a disease and there was no cure."
What many will remember most about Burdick was his voice -- a nasal, stentorian boom that reached every corner of the chamber, pierced any side conversations, snapping the attention of every legislator.
"If you heard that voice, people in the institution knew exactly who it was," former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum said. "He was trusted by everyone who came in contact with him."
Sviggum, who visited the ailing Burdick earlier this week, said Burdick told him, "Steve, I've had a good life."
Burdick was one of the last ties to a bygone era in the Minnesota House. Upon being named chief clerk in 1967, one of his first acts was to remove the brass spittoons from the foot of each desk in the House chamber.
He grew up in the southern Minnesota town of Vernon Center and recalled listening to political debates at the dinner table. "I learned not to take part," he said in 2004. "I guess that was pretty good training for my job."
In 1941, a legislator who had befriended Burdick offered him a patronage job and gave him the choice between becoming a doorkeeper or a page. He chose the latter and started working for $5 a day.
By 1943, he had become head page, leading a squad of other young pages who delivered papers throughout the House chamber. He moved to the clerk's office in 1945 and stayed, missing only the 1951 session while training Korean War draftees as a sergeant major in the Army. He became chief clerk in 1967.
When Albin Mathiowetz succeeded Burdick, he said he received on-the-job training at the "Ed Burdick University of Parliamentary Procedure."
"You'd have to seek far and deep to find someone who had a bad or harsh word to say about Ed Burdick," Sviggum said.
Patrick Mendis, a House staffer whom Burdick had taken under his wing in the mid-80s and who considered Burdick "my family," said Burdick had been ill since late last year and just "slept away, which was the way he wanted to die."
Burdick is survived by a sister, Ruth Resch of Jackson, Minn.; a brother, Lavone Burdick, of Mankato, Minn.; their spouses; 15 nieces and nephews; and numerous grand nieces and nephews.
Services for Burdick, who had no immediate relatives, have not been finalized.
Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-222-0973