For Mary Burke-Griffin, every celebration or holiday was an opportunity to show how much she cared for family and friends. And that meant inviting over a hundred guests, letting them stay until 5:00 a.m. and pulling off the party no matter what got in the way.
When her son’s 300-guest christening celebration was threatened by a massive rainstorm that flooded her basement, in two days Mrs. Burke-Griffin managed to drain the water, clean the trash and host the bash.
Bouncy castles, tents, tables and 10 to 20 pounds of her delicious homemade potato salad were party must-haves.
“She put so much into life,” said her husband, Martin Griffin. “Ordinary events would turn into memorable events. It was kind of her way of caring. That was how she operated.”
Mrs. Burke-Griffin, 48, a Park Ridge resident and Oracle salesperson, died Jan. 25 after a five-month struggle with cancer.
Her children, Marty and Bridget, were the center of her life. She enjoyed watching TV’s “Monk” and “Wonder Woman” with them. She and her husband once organized a kid-friendly family vacation to Las Vegas where they got to meet Mike Tyson, magicians Penn and Teller and an Elvis impersonator who presented her daughter with his scarf.
“Her family and her children were her whole world, and her performance at work was a direct reflection of it,” said Nikolai Segal, a co-worker at Oracle, where Mrs. Burke-Griffin was ranked a “top performer” and winner of the Oracle MVP award.
She was the daughter of Irish immigrants Martin “Frank” Burke of County Roscommon and Bridget “Tessie” Burke of County Mayo. Like her mother, she took care of countless details when she hosted a gathering. “She put her heart and soul in every event and party,” Griffin said.
Mrs. Burke-Griffin would greet people with a big smile and run around making sure every guest had plenty of food on their plates at her barbecues and Halloween and Fourth of July celebrations.
And she was the life of her own parties, dancing to the tunes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Lady Gaga, The Cure and Guns N’ Roses, whom she recently saw in concert.
At the end of the night, she said goodbye to guests with her signature phrase: “Ciao, ciao for now.”
Although Mrs. Burke-Griffin didn’t have a Facebook account, she managed to keep track of all of her friends and bring them together at her festive occasions. “She was a human Facebook,” said friend Linda Allen. “She knew everybody’s birthdays. She truly wanted to be your friend.”
Even while in the hospital for cancer treatments, Mrs. Burke-Griffin would inquire about the health of relatives and friends, wanting to know how they were coping with struggles in their own lives. “She just always thought of the other person. She was the kindest, most dedicated person I ever knew,” said longtime co-worker and friend Vernelle Casper, who used to refer to Mrs. Burke-Griffin as “my second daughter.”
“She never forgot anybody,” her husband said. “You entered her life at one point and she would remember you for the rest of her life.”
An active member of St. Paul of the Cross church in Park Ridge, Mrs. Burke-Griffin organized its Halloween party and face-painting activities.
She graduated from Rosary College — now Dominican University — in 1990 and was a member of the 1986 class of Maine East High School and the 1982 class of Our Lady of Ransom grade school.
Her funeral Mass was Tuesday at St. Paul of the Cross church. She was buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside. In lieu of flowers, her family asked for donations to the American Cancer Society.