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Body found in Downtown Pittsburgh alley ID'd as Grable Foundation executive

| Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, 4:21 p.m.
Steven E. Burke, treasurer and chief financial officer of The Grable Foundation, was found dead Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in an alleyway in Downtown Pittsburgh. He was 61.

Steven E. Burke, treasurer and chief financial officer of The Grable Foundation, was found dead Tuesday in a Downtown alleyway beside a public parking garage, and authorities are trying to determine how he died.

An autopsy performed Wednesday found that Burke died from multiple blunt impact injuries, said Anthony Bofo, a forensic supervisor at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. The manner of death was pending.

“We're trying to find out what happened,” Bofo said. “It could take days, it could take weeks.”

Burke's body was found just after 11:30 a.m. on the ground between Smithfield Liberty Parking Garage and the Hefren-Tillotson Building, near the intersection of Seventh and Liberty avenues. Police did not say who found the body.

The medical examiner's office pronounced Burke, of Fox Chapel, dead at the scene. He was 61.

“They called him ‘Big Steve' because he had the biggest heart in Pittsburgh,” said Michael Bartley, local television producer and close friend of Burke's for 16 years. “He was a quiet force in philanthropy.”

In a statement Wednesday, family members emphasized how much Burke loved his two sons, Chip and Peter, and his wife of 27 years, Gail.

“My brother was a humble, fun-loving, and incredibly generous person who genuinely cared about people,” said Charles Burke Jr., chairman of The Grable Foundation.

Steven Burke worked in sales for H.K. Porter Company, Allegheny Ludlum and Dietrich Industries in Chicago before moving back to Pittsburgh at age 37 to help his family run The Grable Foundation. His family founded the Rubbermaid consumer products company.

“If there was a common theme in his interests, it was in helping children who needed it most,” said Susan Brownlee, a former executive director of the foundation.

News of Steven Burke's sudden death stunned Pittsburgh's philanthropic leaders.

“Steve always talked about how lucky he was, and that was him, this regular guy who felt blessed by life. He loved his family, friends and the work he got to do every day, and he embraced everything he did with an enthusiasm that was just infectious,” said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments.

Maxwell King, CEO and president of The Pittsburgh Foundation, described Steven Burke as “a good partner and a savvy steward of the foundation resources.”

Steven Burke, a graduate of Shady Side Academy and University of Virginia, loved to ski, golf and travel — he visited five continents and biked across New Zealand with his son, Pete.

His wife said in a statement that his style was simple and unpretentious; his favorite thing to wear was an old quarter-zip Steelers fleece sweatshirt that's no longer made, and he drove his silver Oldsmobile 88 until he had to use a rope to keep the door closed.

“I felt at home from our first date,” Gail Burke said.

His close friend, Bill Simpson, president of the Downtown insurance agency Simpson & McCrady, described Steve Burke as “like a character out of the movies” — one that may have been at times reminiscent of National Lampoon's “Animal House” in terms of his love for fun and “larger than life persona, which included a great sense of humor and a deep love of family and friends.” In fact, Steve Burke's childhood friend Jamie Widdoes starred in that film as Hoover, the president of Delta House.

Said Widdoes of Steven Burke: “He was the same guy in middle school as he was at 20 as he was at 40. A fun, warm guy who put a smile on your face.”

He joined family members — including his brother, Chip Burke, and mother, Patsy Grable Burke — on the seven-member, unpaid board overseeing The Grable Foundation , a Downtown-based grant-making organization focused on helping youths become successful, independent and compassionate members of society. The foundation had $282 million in net assets in 2014, IRS records show.

Minnie K. Grable, widow to Rubbermaid Inc. founder and lifetime director Errett M. Grable, established the foundation in 1976 with help from the late Charles Burke Sr., who was her son-in-law and Steven Burke's father.

Burke Sr. — who died in February 2010 at age 87 — succeeded Errett Grable on the board of Rubbermaid Corp.

Minnie Grable died in 1990, and the foundation's first professional staff was hired in 1991.

The foundation's offices, at 660 Smithfield St., are just around the corner from the alleyway in which Burke was found dead.

NOTE: This story has been updated from the original to clarify a quote.

Natasha Lindstrom and Megan Guza are Tribune-Review staff writers. Reach Lindstrom at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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