In memory of Deborah Burkart
The photo above was taken in Central Park in 1964 and, even though it is old and weathered, it captures both the external and internal beauty of Deborah Susan Burkart. She was a dreamer and a lover of life. In her 82 years, she never lost this angelic, childlike quality. With a huge smile and an even larger heart, she blessed countless people with her kindness, wisdom, and genuine affection.
If you didn’t know Deborah you might think this is hyperbole, but anyone who encountered her would immediately feel a sense of being cared for and loved. And it was entirely genuine. Deborah was born with many gifts, but artifice was not one of them. She couldn’t fake it even if she wanted to. Her empathy was so strong.. She was able to understand people in a way that was truly profound, and she used that superpower not for any personal gain, but to see the best in people.
Even when she was in the midst of difficult business negotiations, or later in her work as a mediator, she would always lighten the air in the room and make everyone feel at ease. No one was ever right or wrong. It was just the process that needed to happen, and she had the patience to see the process through with an eye toward the greater happiness of everyone involved. Her life mission was entirely to be of service to others – to make the world a better and more beautiful place.
This is one reason why she was so beloved by so many people. Her memorial service in 2023 was packed with over a hundred people from all walks of life, and what started out as a somber event quickly turned into a joyful gathering. Peals of laughter echoed out of the room as people told their favorite “Deborah stories” remembering one of the most unique beings to have entered their lives. She had an incredible sense of humor, and it stayed with us even after her passing.
As anyone who had any contact with Deborah knew, she loved stories. And so here we attempt to tell the story of her remarkable life.
Deborah’s childhood was not an easy one, and as soon as she could, at the age of 18, she escaped the social confines of Houston, Texas, and started on a great adventure to explore the world. With a few friends, she traveled across Europe for two years -- from France to Italy to Greece and then Holland and Denmark -- and eventually made her way to Israel to work on a kibbutz, an experimental farming commune. After attending UC Berkeley, she came to New York City in the early ’60s, where she hung out with famous artists, musicians, dancers, beatnik writers (and her soon-to-be husband).
Their friend, the famous poet Allen Ginsberg, had recently moved to the country in upstate New York and they followed shortly thereafter, buying an ancient farmhouse and opening the area’s first health food store in a nearby barn. Despite the snow, which sometimes piled eight feet high, she created a warm and loving home filled with the smells of maple syrup cooking on the stove and freshly baked bread (with her own stone-ground flour). It was an idyllic place to grow up. As kids, we spent our days roaming the nearby woods and rolling fields with our giant German shepherd, Che.
A question arose as to what faith us kids should be raised in. Deborah was Jewish and her husband Catholic, so the obvious solution was… Buddhism. In the early 70s, they moved to Costa Rica to open the region’s first Zen meditation center (still in operation today) – a new adventure in another, entirely different landscape. Here we spent our summers combing the beaches for abalone shells and exploring lush, tropical rainforests filled with the sounds of howler monkeys and toucans.
After a few years it was time to come back to the States, and as we had become accustomed to conversing in Spanish, it was decided New Mexico would be our new home – again an entirely different, but equally magical landscape -- the high desert. Our adobe-style house was right across the street from a large playing field where every evening we were treated to the awe-inspiring, multi-colored sunsets that you can only believe if you’ve visited the Land of Enchantment.
This is where Deborah set down roots, single-handedly raising two temperamental children as she started a career in real estate that was to span more than 40 years. She would eventually become one of Albuquerque’s top-producing realtors, growing her business entirely by word of mouth. She also opened her home for a meditation center that met weekly for over a decade, providing a loving, welcoming place for people to gather and advance their own personal journeys to discovering inner peace.
Deborah had a deep mystical side and offered so much knowledge without any pretense. She had a great understanding of many spiritual traditions – from Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism to the writings of Jewish, Christian, and Sufi scholars, as well as the teachings of Native American elders. She also had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of vitamins and natural remedies, which she would always share if anyone had an ailment!
She told us once that as a teenager she heard the famous Rabbi Abraham Heschel speak and was captivated by the idea of tikkun olam – a Jewish philosophy that brings together a sense of wonder for God’s creation with a moral responsibility to heal the world and uplift humanity. Deborah truly lived this life, a life that brought heaven a little closer to Earth. We are so grateful and privileged to have known her.
Deborah was a therapist to many, a constant cheerleader for her friends and family, and the best mom anyone could have possibly had. We’ve never known a kinder or gentler soul. She allowed our childhood to be filled with magic and adventure. A secret radical in her mind and heart, a rebellious and fearless trailblazer that explored life with an indomitable spirit, she never stopped searching for her truth. She saw the mystical possibilities in everything and everyone.
Written by Karl Burkart and Dawn Poket. Visit Deborah's legacy fund page to see projects supported by this initiative
About One Earth Legacy Funds
One Earth’s guiding mission is to empower everyone, everywhere, with the knowledge, inspiration, and opportunity to heal the Earth and reclaim our future. We believe that every person has a key role to play in protecting our planet and all its inhabitants great and small. As part of that mission, we are fiercely dedicated to expanding access to philanthropic capital for the most impactful nonprofit initiatives around the world. The team behind One Earth has developed innovative grantmaking models, delivering over $100 million in direct contributions to hundreds of small organizations in 60+ countries, saving critical ecosystems and uplifting the lives of rural and Indigenous communities.
With One Earth’s legacy funds, we seek to make available to every family the opportunity to create a permanent legacy fund in memory of their loved ones. Normally only reserved for the ultra-wealthy, legacy funds exist in perpetuity. Each year, proceeds are awarded in honor of the fund’s namesake to a carefully curated group of charitable projects in one of three categories --Energy Access, Nature Conservation, and Regenerative Agriculture. An online memorial page is also maintained in perpetuity, recognizing the collective impact made by friends and family over time. Contact One Earth at [email protected] to learn more.