Patrick Mendis: His position was local; his reach, worldwide

  • Article by: PATRICK MENDIS
  • Updated: March 18, 2011 - 5:42 PM

Ed Burdick, the former chief clerk of the Minnesota House of Representatives who died recently, was a father to many.

The writer's children Gamini (left) and Samantha grew up with "Uncle Ed" and never missed a family Christmas with him in over 21 years.

The writer's children Gamini (left) and Samantha grew up with "Uncle Ed" and never missed a family Christmas with him in over 21 years.

Photo: Courtesy, Mendis family

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For more than a quarter-century, I've been receiving phone calls from Minnesota in more than 40 countries in Europe and Asia.

In 1978, my American Field Service (AFS) host family in Perham contacted me in Sri Lanka to welcome me as their first high school exchange student in northern Minnesota.

On Thanksgiving Day of last year, my Peking duck dinner held by Chinese hosts in Beijing was interrupted when I was asked to return "home" to take care of Ed Burdick at United Hospital's intensive-care unit in St. Paul.

My Asian book tour on the "Secret Destiny of the American Empire" abruptly ended. I returned not to the Washington, D.C., area, where my family and I live, but to Minnesota.

Over the past four months, I have been with Ed every day and night at United Hospital, Bethesda Hospital and finally the Episcopal Church Home in St. Paul, where Ed slipped away peacefully in his sleep the morning of Ash Wednesday.

Edward Arthur Burdick was 89 years young.

Ed was my "adopted" father, mentor and friend. During the 1984 legislative session, I worked for him in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where he was the chief clerk and parliamentarian.

When I attended the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota, I stayed with Ed until I married a Scandinavian -- a former AFS exchange student to Japan from Willmar whom I had met at the university.

Over the years, Ed's legislative staff and friends became my extended family. Ed had never been married, but our now grown-up son Gamini and daughter Samantha knew him as "Uncle Ed." Gamini -- now a junior at Purdue University -- also worked as a page in the House.

Dubbed an "icon of Minnesota," the nonpartisan chief clerk was a father figure to many.

Former Republican Speaker Steve Sviggum, who often visited his friend and prayed regularly at his bedside, wrote me to say that while "you were his love and son, he was my father, too."

In a phone call, our friend former Democrat Speaker Margaret Kelliher also said, "You were his son, Patrick; Ed was like a father to me, too."

The "voice of the Minnesota House of Representatives" always believed in George Washington's wise farewell address reminder to extend an "impartial hand" in governance -- whether representatives were Republican or Democrat, male or female.

Like James Madison, this man of conviction was preoccupied in fulfilling the national vision of "fairness" throughout his more than 60 years of legislative and military service.

Like Thomas Jefferson, the parliamentarian advocated "equality" for all in his words and deeds -- supporting the United Negro and American Indian College Funds, for example.

Ed often joked that he was named after two British kings but despised the Redcoats and championed the vision of Patriots. He believed that the Boston Tea Party warriors were energized by the "fairness revolution" and its global mission of democracy.

Ed kept that vision alive by helping a circle of immigrants like me. For him, this was an ordained mission of our nation.

During his final journey, he insisted that I give "tips" to the "immigrant" nurses and aides who cared for him.

Although I explained the legal inappropriateness of his generous intention, Ed did once succeed in convincing me to relay a gift certificate to a pregnant African-American aide because (as he carefully reasoned) we were not technically giving money to her, but to her child.

During Ed's four-month hospital experience, I had the privilege of meeting more than 40 nurses and aides, and more than 15 medical doctors -- the majority of whom were born in Africa, Asia, Latin America or Eastern Europe.

Romanian-born Dr. Viorel Gheorghe at Bethesda Hospital told him, "Ed, literally, you are just like my father" back in Bucharest. Dr. Gheorghe and Ed developed a remarkable friendship -- they joked, laughed and cried together while holding hands.

Essentially all of them lovingly cared for Ed as if he were their own father -- a general character of the quality of health care by global citizenry in my adopted state.

Two delightful Tibetan and Nepali nurses at the United and Bethesda Hospitals learned separately that Ed had met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was given a special blessing with a white scarf.

Ed asked me to show them the photo taken at the State Capitol. They considered Ed a blessed one and treated him with reverence and gratitude for the opportunity to serve such a distinguished American statesman.

Washington, Jefferson and Madison -- as well as Abraham Lincoln, who was president in the years just after Minnesota became a state in the Union -- would have been proud to know that the Star of the North had produced a man named "Ed," as he preferred to be called in the egalitarian Minnesotan spirit.

When Ed was living and dying, he taught me that we are one people, one nation, under God -- despite our gender, national origin and other diferences.

Heaven is a better place because Ed is there -- and the memory of this great Minnesotan is a daily reminder of the founding values expressed in American exceptionalism and Minnesota Nice.

Patrick Mendis, a former American diplomat and military professor, is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota. (A memorial service for Ed Burdick will be at 11 a.m. March 25 at Roseville Lutheran Church. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. March 24 at Roseville Memorial Chapel.)

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The writer's children Gamini (left) and Samantha grew up with "Uncle Ed" and never missed a family Christmas with him in over 21 years.