Tony Burch was a Navy veteran; however, it was his smile and singing that made him popular in San Quentin State Prison. He passed away on Nov. 6. He was 67 years old.
Burch’s memorial began on Nov. 18 with a Color Guard of incarcerated veterans, with Garvin Robinson, Ernie Soltero, Carl Raybon and Brian Corder carrying the American and POW flags inside the prison’s Protestant Chapel.
After the flags were set in front of the chapel’s stage, Taps sounded and more than 100 of Burch’s fellow men-in-blue stood in his honor and saluted the flags or held their hands over their hearts.
Church elder Darryl Hill sang one of Burch’s favorite songs, Why Don’t You Pray For Me?
“It is an encouragement that even though we are incarcerated, we can celebrate Tony’s life,” Carl Solerdo said. “The brother showed his love and always had a smile.”
Trent Capell and Patrick Bayliss read passages from The New Testament.
Chaplain Mardi Ralph Jackson took the stage and talked about Burch as a God fearing man.
“This is a peaceful occasion. We honor this faithful man to this ministry. He was always respectful and conducted himself as a man of God,” Jackson said. “I can thank God for Brother Tony Burch. He never said anything derogatory but was always glorifying God when he talked to me.”
Several men-in-blue followed Jackson to tell stories about Burch.
“God allowed me the pleasure to meet Brother Tony,” Hill said. “We played cards, Scrabble, cooked and ate together. What I remember most, during the card games, he wasn’t that great, so he’d make excuses and say, ‘I think you’re pencil whipping me,’” Hill said, which brought laughter. He added, “I have a lot of fond memories of him. He taught me how to listen and to be respectful. He’d bring me to scripture to correct me. He was always claiming and living Christ.”
Larry Histon talked about having a conversation about Burch with an incarcerated hospital worker. Burch was on his way to the outside hospital. The hospital worker told Burch, “I’ll see you when you get back.” Burch replied, ‘I’ll see you on the other side.’”
David Rodriguez sang a song in Burch’s honor.
Here’s what others said:
“I played Scrabble with Tony. He’d put down a word that you were sure was not in the dictionary, but when you challenged it and looked it up, there it would be. Then the next time he’d put down a word that you didn’t know, you’d be scared to challenge it. Later on, you’d look up the word and it’s not in there.”
“Tony, I know you’re up there in Heaven,” one person said before singing a heart-felt rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
“He was always talking about what God had done for him.”
Incarcerated veterans added:
“I knew Tony in the U.S. Seabees.”
“He was good company. He was consistently Tony.”
“He used to like to have fun and wouldn’t want anyone to be sad.”
“I learned that he sang with the Chi-Lites and that was one of my favorite groups. As a singer myself, I am grateful that I met him.”
“He used to tell me that it made him happy to see me dancing round and round as we were singing to the Lord. He slipped away from me, but I’m going to catch him.”
One person read a poem that ended with the poet singing Anchors Away.
Before he passed, Burch said to a friend, “I hope I come back a better man.”
The Color Guard ended the memorial with Taps being played one more time.