Mission: to seek and share inspiration

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Remembering Mary Alice Heekin Burke


(1923–2016)

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Mary Alice Heekin Burke first started attending Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and May Festival performances with her father when she was 18 years old. Music remained central to her life, and she generously dedicated her energies to ensuring the future of arts and cultural institutions, including the CSO. In 1998, she donated the funds to create an endowment in perpetuity for the Principal Bass Chair. Owen Lee had been in the position for three seasons, and Mrs. Burke greatly admired his playing, which inspired her decision to endow the chair. Her desire to perpetuate Cincinnati’s rich musical tradition in turn inspired those around her.

Mr. Lee, who continues to hold the chair, and his wife enjoyed a rich friendship with Mrs. Burke over the years. “She was a highly accomplished woman who led an incredibly full, rich life, raised a large family, and possessed enormous strength of character. She was even a feminist well before that word gained its modern currency. I really looked up to her and admired her no-nonsense directness, her lifelong commitment to social and economic justice, and her insatiable thirst for knowledge and beauty,” said Mr. Lee.

Over the course of her varied career, Mrs. Burke earned two master’s degrees, worked as a translator for the CIA, and championed the work of Cincinnati women and their contributions to art and culture. Her own study and work advanced the cultural life of the city she loved, and her life deeply impressed the individuals and organizations she encountered along the way.

“In America, civic treasures such as performing arts organizations, museums and universities would be shadows of what they are without the generous philanthropy of ordinary individuals…Needless to say, I and all of the CSO Principal Bassists who follow me owe an immense debt of gratitude to Mrs. Burke,” said Mr. Lee.

Photo above: Owen and CiCi Lee with Mary Alice Heekin
Burke at the Cincinnati Art Museum.