Joe Burns never sat still.
After he retired from a 30-year career as an investigator with the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, Joe poured himself into woodworking, said his wife, Virginia Burns, of Bloomington.
If you gave the slightest hint you wanted him to make you a table or a dresser or anything using a table saw, you’d better be sure you really wanted it.
“We learned not to suggest,” she said. “If I changed my mind midstream, it was already done.”
They were married for 61½ years before Joe died of COVID-19 on May 5 at 88.
“He was Irish from head to foot,” his wife said. “ …I could always find him in a crowd because he was always laughing.”
His career, investigating claims people made against the city, gave him a perfect outlet for his energy, she said.
“He was always on the move, it was a job he needed,” she said. “It was a job he really liked. But he hated admitting that.”
His daughter, Melissa Garcia of Hudson, Wis, said that the family still found time to vacation together before her father’s dementia diagnosis in 2017.
“We would go to the lake and all stay in the same cabin,” his daughter recalled. “It wasn’t like a mansion, but we survived.”
For his wife, it was a chance to make a close family even closer.
“There was no fighting,” she said. “I had all my chicks in the same coop.”
The family was waiting for Joe, a Marine who was a Korean War veteran, to get a room in the VA health care system when they had to place him in a nursing home on March 13.
The nursing home went into quarantine on March 14 and on April 23 he tested positive for COVID-19.
While Joe’s dementia took some of the sparkle from his eye, the family said he remained active his entire life.
“He was healthy as a horse prior to the dementia,” his daughter said. “[The nursing home staff] called him the energizer bunny and said he’ll be missed because he was always following them around.”
Even at the end of his life, Joe still found a way to be himself.
“He celebrated his 88th birthday there in the nursing home,” his wife said. “My daughter was able to bring a chocolate cake to his door. He had a chocolate cake with the staff and other patients. They said they heard him laugh.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by son Kevin Burns of Bloomington, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Jeff Day is a Star Tribune copy editor.