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August 12, 2023
Morley Bruce "Lee" Burnham died peacefully on August 12, 2023 at Ocean Views long-term care facility in Comox, B.C. He was 82, and his daughter Charlene was at his side. A 33-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, an air traffic controller, Lee is survived by his four children Clint (Julie), Charlene (Glenn), Greg, and Teresa (Al); four grandchildren Beth, Tony, Emily, and Devon and two great-grandchildren Gia and Eleanor. Lee was predeceased by his first wife Barb (née Learie), his second wife Barbara (née Gregory), his daughter-in-law Siobhan, and his partner Linda. An interment ceremony will be held in April 2024.
Lee was born in Winnipeg in 1940, the son of Fred and Betty (Hynd) Burnham. He was called "Bruce" by his parents. In the late forties the Burnhams decamped for the West Coast - Bruce attended Fleming at Knight and East 49th in Vancouver - the same school his grandson Devon would attend over sixty years later. The family soon moved to Burnaby where they settled on Ridge Drive, and Bruce attended North Burnaby High School, where he began his lifelong love of all things automotive. Bruce was also a student disc jockey in the "Teen Town" movement of the 1940s and 50s.
Two momentous events happened almost simultaneously for Bruce: meeting his first wife, Barbara Ann Learie, and joining the Royal Canadian Air Force. The story is that Bruce and Barb met on an RBC "booze and cruise" boat trip to Bowen Island. Courtship also involved "watching the submarine races" from Burnaby mountain. One rainy day in 1961, waiting to meet Barb after work in downtown Vancouver, Bruce ducked into an air force recruiting centre on Seymour street. Bruce signed up, and was sent to Saint Jean, Québec for basic training. There, not for the first time, his name changed: there was more than one Bruce in his unit, and more than one Morley, and so "Lee" he became. Lee's first posting was to RCAF Station Comox on Vancouver Island and he and Barb married. Clint was born at St. Joseph's hospital in Comox, the same facility that would, sixty years later, be the Views where Lee spent his final two years. Charlene would be born in the same hospital two years after Clint.
Raising a family and serving as an air traffic controller would come to define Lee's life: the two were intertwined. Service members were transferred from one base to another frequently in the 1960s and 70s. Lee served in Comox; in Marville, France; in Lahr, West Germany; in Bagotville, Québec; in Edmonton, Alberta; in Goose Bay, Labrador; in Cold Lake, Alberta; in Regina, Saskatchewan; in Comox again; in Victoria, B.C., and in Comox for a third and final time until he retired in 1994. Most of those postings were to work air traffic control or radar control but also included two tours as commanders of recruiting detachments, in Regina and Victoria.
Greg joined the family in Marville - before they moved to Lahr. Lee's first posting back in Canada was in Bagotville, Que., and he got down to work trying to learn French. And soon, tragedy struck when Barb had three children, triplets, born prematurely, who all died within a few days.
Dealing with unimaginable grief, Lee and Barb and family were moved to Edmonton, where Lee took up his ATC role at CFB Namao in the north end. Money was tight - Lee was moonlighting for a while at the candy counter at the Hudson's Bay store downtown. And the ache from losing the triplets must have been pressing - in early 1971, the family welcomed Teresa, then less than three months old.
Lee was now also upgrading his training, and often away "on course". The family then moved to Goose Bay, in Labrador, for a three year tour, returning to Alberta, but to the air force base at Cold Lake. Lee was active in both postings, joining, at Cold Lake, both the radio station - CHCL - and the community council (for the PMQ area of Mackenzie). In both postings social life centred around the Officers' Mess (and, for Barb, the Wives' Club).
The 1980s saw Lee as both a recruiter in Regina and Victoria and in the ATC tower in Comox for two tours. Lee and Barb also continued their affection for camping, progressing from a soft-top tent trailer purchased in the 1970s to a hardtop and then a trailer, and going not just across Western Canada but a memorable trip (now with just Greg and Teresa) to California in the mid 1980s. As Lee and Barb eyed his upcoming retirement, a new hobby took over: antiquing. Looking for old furniture in small towns on Vancouver Island allowed local travel to combine with Lee's carpentry skills, and they began to restore furniture, including retrofitting Lee's stereo into an old vacuum tube radio.
Lee was two years away from retirement when tragedy struck again, in early 1992, when Barb was suddenly afflicted with acute pancreatitis. Clint flew in from Ontario and the family gathered by Barb's side. She died after mere weeks, in February. Barb was 50. The memorial service in Comox was packed with family and friends.
A few years later, after retiring, Lee met and then married Barbara Miller (née Gregory), a friend from the ATC world, and they would go on to have many years of RVing adventures with annual trips to Yuma, Arizona, time with their grandchildren, a get-away to Hawaii and even a trip down the Danube river - Barbara's "last hurrah" as she said. Barbara died in early 2016. Lee was always grateful that he had two wonderful women in his life.
There was one late-in-life moment of joy, however. Charlene was at a family wedding in 2003 when she found out Lee was actually adopted. In spring 2004 the family tracked down Lee's birth mother, Phyllis Eldridge (née Swanson), who was still alive, living in Los Angeles. Lee flew down to meet her for Mother's Day 2004, Phyllis came up to B.C. for Christmas that year, and lived a few more years with visits back and forth.
Lee's retirement was also busy with the Comox Kiwanis Club, where he helped out with the annual go-cart race - attended in different years by all the different grandchildren - and a monthly pancake breakfast for the seniors at the Views nursing home. The COVID-19 pandemic was difficult and, along with the death of his dog Molly in 2020, accelerated his decline, with Lee first moving into Berwick Retirement Community in Comox, in late 2020, and then, as dementia hit, to the Views in early 2022.
Lee was an active member of the Views community, and less than a week before his death was still going out with Charlene and Glenn for lunch at the White Spot. His capacity deteriorated quickly that last week, and Lee was in bed and not to rise again by the Wednesday, followed by his death three days later. The family would like to thank Dr. Neufled for his care of Dad over the past 20 years and the wonderful care at the Views - Ocean View - the staff treated him with dignity and respect and we always knew he was safe.