A tribute to our brother-in-arms,
Uli was (and it seems so wrong still to use the word ‘was) a fiercely intelligent individual, who was also a man of extraordinary integrity and high principles. He was instinctively kind, and immensely generous of spirit - often unexpectedly compassionate as well. He was also blessed with the most extraordinarily winning smile and had a twinkle in his eyes that could melt a glacier. His soul was multi-layered, combining man, boy, and old soul into a single complex and unique human being. Equally, he could be chaotic and could drive you crazy!
There was always a sense of destiny about him so it feels impossible that its arrow will now never complete its long arching flight as we assumed it would do, its trajectory now inexplicably cut off in mid-flight. So those who knew him now must make sense of this as best we can.
For us? The truth is that all of Moxafrica’s most important data so far is North Korean, and none of it would be available to us (and therefore the world) without Uli's determination and integrity. His contribution to Moxafrica, in other words, was critical at a critical point of time and will remain so whatever else we might manage to achieve in the future because these data comprise crucial building blocks for us and others to review, re-examine and (hopefully) build from.
What’s more, none of these building blocks would exist without Uli single-handedly convincing some of North Korea’s top TB and infectious disease specialists that it would be worth their while developing a moxa/MDR-TB study (or two) of their own. He convinced them that it would be worthwhile testing out what he was telling them might be possible for MDR-TB cases because of the data he could share with them from Uganda. By any standards (and especially in terms of today’s topsy-turvy world) that was and still is an extraordinary and unique achievement.
There's so much for us to reflect on around this, not least because anything further that we might achieve will inevitably be a continuing testimony to his efforts in North Korea. Inevitably everything will be built from the crucial platform that these North Korean data provide.
So Uli’s death (or his ‘leaving of our planet’ as Yuki has so painfully but beautifully put it) now must provide us with inspiration but also provoke in us a fresh determination (and maybe most important of all) some renewed courage to do all we can to take Moxafrica’s journey to another level.
Every time I see a rainbow now, I will be thinking of you, Uli. I’ll especially remember how you looked after me in North Korea when I was so far out of my depth – not least I’ll remember how we hopelessly pushed that damned old Chinese van in a night-time snowstorm on a mountain road 70 miles from Pyongyang – and how we were rescued by a lorry driver who didn’t want to see two visitors to his country stuck out on a mountain road overnight in the snow. You were a true citizen of the world, someone who respected all people for who they are whilst not having an equal respect for borders, or for the people who perpetuate them and for the misery that they can create. And despite leaving our lonely planet too early, you have still left something special behind you (not just in connection with Moxafrica, but also in your daughter who has that same smile and those same twinkly slightly mischievous eyes).
Walk that rainbow, Uli. We will mourn your loss and then we will do our best to help your arrow finally land where it should do.
With the most enormous sadness, I have to announce the death of our former trustee Ulick (Uli) Burke yesterday in Kyoto. It is impossible to imagine the grief that Yuki (Uli’s wife) and Nana (their extraordinary young daughter) must be experiencing right now and we send them our love and our solidarity.