Obituary and Eulogy

For three days, Wednesday February 7 through Friday February 9, the Ventura County Star published Mary's obituary, reproduced below.


Mary Frances Burke Riggs

Newbury Park, CA

Mary in Riga, Latvia, in 2013, aboard a boat on the River Dougava
Mary in Riga, Latvia, in 2013, aboard a boat on the River Dougava

Mary Frances Burke Riggs, 72, was born February 15, 1945, in Riverside, California, the second of five kids to Mary and Gerald (Jerry) Burke. She died on February 1, 2018, at home in Newbury Park, California, surrounded by her family. She is survived by her husband of 51 years, Larry Riggs, her four kids, Cathy, Jenny, Brian and Dave, five grandkids, two wonderful daughters-in-law, Marion and Jen, her 97-year-old father, Jerry, her sister Teresa and her brother Michael.

Mary, affectionately known to her family as “Muffy,” moved 14 times with her husband Larry, a computer programmer with wanderlust, from the time of their marriage in 1966 until finally settling in Newbury Park in 1980. They lived in various parts of Southern California, Northern California, New Jersey, and England, where her youngest son, Dave, was born. Mary was a middle and high school teacher and took more than a decade off work to raise her children. She eventually attained a Master’s degree and retired in 2014 as a linguistics professor at California State University at Northridge.

Mary was an accomplished painter, avid gardener, prolific reader, master storyteller, maker of outstanding jams (especially her apricot jam), and crocheter of afghans, scarves and hot pads. She never missed an opportunity to surprise a native Spanish speaker with her proficiency in Spanish, learned as a young exchange student in Argentina. She learned some French and Greek while living in England, and could speak German to her daughter-in-law Marion.

In 1997 Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer. She received treatment and lived almost 20 years in remission until that same cancer reared its ugly head again, having metastasized throughout her body, in 2016. She again received treatment for the cancer and lived long enough to meet her youngest grandson, Lucas, but the cancer eventually won the fight. Mary’s greatest hope was that someday there would be a cure for cancer and no one else would have to fight like she did.

A memorial service will be held at St. Julie’s Catholic Church at 2475 Borchard Road in Newbury Park on Saturday, February 10, at 11 am, followed by a reception in the parish hall. More information can be found on her website, In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the American Cancer Society.

Condolences may be left at

At the start of the funeral Mass, I gave the eulogy shown below.


Eulogy for Mary Riggs

Feb 15, 1945 – Feb 1, 2018

Part I: Recognition of relatives who have traveled from afar

For about 35 years, Mary was a teacher. I think she was born to teach; it was a skill shared by others in her family. Her late brother, Professor John Burke, a brilliant man, taught philosophy at the University of Washington.

John’s son, Mary’s nephew David Burke is here with us today. He’s also a teacher, being the senior pastor at the Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento. He flies back to Sacramento late tonight as he preaches tomorrow morning.

Cathy, our oldest of four, follows in her mother’s footsteps. Sergeant Riggs is in charge of training at the LAPD’s Topanga station. She and Mary would often collaborate on developing the best teaching techniques to use.

We are also so privileged today in having Mary’s dad, WW II veteran 1st Lt Jerry Burke with us; he’ll celebrate his 97th birthday next month. The Burkes’ roots go deep into Ireland. When we were living in England, Mary called him and said, “Dad, we’re going to Ireland. Where do we find the Burkes?” He quickly answered, “Look in the jail records.” (We did find lots of Burkes in Galway and Athlone, but none in jails.)

I’d like to also acknowledge some out-of-town relatives who’ve made the trip: my sister Sue from Chicago, Mary’s brother Michael, wife Bernadette, and kids Isaac and Emma from Massachusetts, and Mary’s sister Teresa and brother-in-law from Atascadero. Pastor Burke’s brother Tom and mother Vivienne from near D.C. are here.

Finally, Cathy’s daughter Tori, our daughter Jenny, our son Brian and his wife Marion, and our son David and wife Jen and 10-week old son Lucas are here.

Part II: Honoring Mary

I met Mary in my senior year at UC Riverside, at semester change, when she became the roommate of a lady friend in one of my Russian classes. I was five years her senior, fresh out of the Army and full of swagger. A few weeks after meeting Mary, I took her to meet my grandmother, who lived in Hemet, very near Riverside. My grandmother assessed Mary and at some point during our visit, she took Mary’s hands and said, “Oh Mary, I’m so glad you’re not a floozy!” I was so proud that I had exceeded my grandmother’s expectations.

Mary was so smart but also humble. A week or two after we met, I was at her off-campus apartment. She was ironing. There was a Reader’s Digest lying on the table, and in it I found its well-known Vocabulary Quiz with 20 questions in which you match a word to one of four definitions. I took the test and got 17 out of 20. I challenged Mary to take it. She said No. I insisted. I wanted to impress her with my intelligence. Finally, she relented and took the test. 20 out of 20! During our marriage, if I would read a word I didn’t know, I’d ask her and almost always she’d instantly provide a definition.

Mary was so loving and accepting. A year after we met, I invited her on a picnic in the hills above San Bernardino. Her roommates had told her, “He’s going to propose.” We started our picnic, and I said, “I’m going to ask you something, but first I have something to tell you. When I was in the Army in Germany, I fathered a child.”

She and I had both been raised Catholic. I was prepared to be rejected because of my transgression. My Catholic school training outside Detroit had been very rigid with nuns making us kneel on broomsticks or getting our hands whacked with a ruler. I held my breath, but her reply was quick, “I don’t care. I love you.” So I proposed, she accepted, and we both rejoiced. It was a stunning moment.

Mary has accepted my son Volker, his wife Marion, and their son Alexander—my grandson—into our family. Volker has a PhD in biochemistry and he and his family now live outside Frankfurt. He’s been here and we’ve been there a number of times.

Mary’s health has not been good over the past few years. We’ve done extensive traveling, having visited over 50 countries. But in 2012, the day before we were to leave for SE Asia, Mary went to the ER due to chest pains. She said to me, “We need to cancel our trip. I don’t want to die in Cambodia.” In 2015, we canceled a New England Fall Foliage trip also because of chest pains. She was a fighter, who enjoyed traveling, but over time it took more and more effort and we scaled our activities back.

On Jan 23, nine days before she died, I told her, “I’m dedicating the rest of my life to caring for you.” She responded, “I never expected to hear that from you.” I can be tough and unyielding at times.

Over the last two years, Mary lost about 60 lb. At the end she needed help putting on her slipper-like shoes and putting her pants on. A couple weeks ago I got down on a knee to help her put her pants and shoes on, looked up, and said, “Mary Burke, will you marry me?” Without hesitation, she answered, “In a heartbeat!”

She’s now in the Lord’s hands, in heaven, telling stories, and spellbinding her listeners. I hold her memory dear in my heart and hope she’s able to guide me well through my remaining days.