Veteran exec Daniel Burke dies at 82

Ex-Capital Cities/ABC CEO spent more than 30 years at media conglom

Daniel Burke, former Capital Cities/ABC president and CEO and the father of NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, died of complications from diabetes at his home in Rye, N.Y., on Wednesday. He was 82.

Over a period of three decades, Daniel Burke and his business partner Tom Murphy built Capital Cities from a television station in Albany, N.Y., into a company with TV and radio operations as well as newspapers and magazines.

Burke oversaw its surprise 1986 purchase of ABC, a much larger company, which thrust him and longtime business partner Murphy into the national spotlight. At the time, the $3.5 billion deal (undertaken with Warren Buffett’s backing) was the largest non-oil merger in business history. Burke retired from Capital Cities/ABC in 1994, two years before it was sold to the Walt Disney Co. for $19 billion.

Disney president-CEO Robert A. Iger called Burke “a gifted executive and natural teacher and a man with a strong sense of right and wrong” who “led by example. He stood for integrity and directness in business, and encouraged a balance in work and family life and involvement in one’s community. Dan had a significant impact on me and all those he touched, and for that I will always be grateful.”

Burke served as an infantry lieutenant in the Korean War in 1951-52 after graduating from the U. of Vermont with a B.A. in 1950. He earned his MBA at Harvard in 1955.

In 1961 Burke was working at General Foods when he was recruited by Murphy of Capital Cities Broadcasting to run the company’s television station, WTEN, in Albany. That was the beginning of their partnership. Burke was made a VP in 1962 and was appointed general manager of WJR-AM/FM in Detroit in 1964. He became exec VP and director of Cap Cities in 1967 and was president of the publishing division from 1969-72. He was president and chief operating officer of the company from 1972 to 1990, when he ascended to prexy-CEO.

The recognition Burke received for his business leadership included his appointment by President George H.W. Bush to the Hungarian-American Enterprise Fund, which managed U.S. aid to Hungary’s private sector. Outside the business world, he served as director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and chairman emeritus of New York Presbyterian Hospital. He also created a minor league baseball franchise in Maine — the Sea Dogs.

In addition to Steve Burke, a former president of ABC, Daniel Burke is survived by his wife of 54 years, Harriet “Bunny” Burke; sons Bill, a former president of TBS and the Weather Channel, and Frank; daughter Sally; a brother and a sister; and 14 grandchildren.

A visitation service will be held at Graham Funeral Home, 1036 Post Road in Rye on Monday, from 3-7 p.m. The funeral will take place at St. Martha Church, 30 Portland Road in Kennebunk, Me.

Donations may be made to Maine Medical Center, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America or the Naomie Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia U. Medical Center.

(Associated Press contributed to this report.)