John Rourke, a BC graduate of the Class of '41, ran the Brighton Center landmark for more than 60 years with the help of his sister Mary, a kindergarten teacher who mixed fountain drinks at the pharmacy until she was in her 80s. The Rourkes inherited the pharmacy from their father, Dennis, who founded it in 1897.
"This is a very special gift that came as a wonderful surprise to us," said Boston College President William P. Leahy, SJ. "John Rourke was a devoted alumnus and his sister Mary was a life-long supporter of the University, but we never expected them to make a bequest of this size. It is a testament to their hard work and frugality that they were able to save so much money from a small family business. We are honored to be a recipient of their generosity."
To honor the Rourkes' professional lives and to fulfill Boston College's commitment to enhance academic excellence through its five-year "Advancing the Legacy" plan, BC will use their gift to create an endowed chair in physics, establish a research fund in chemistry and help fund the construction of a student service center.
Rourke's Pharmacy, located on the corner of Market and Washington streets in Brighton Center, was an old-fashioned family pharmacy complete with syrup and soda-water drinks, hand-packed ice cream and homemade hot fudge. According to local residents, it was the most popular meeting place in the neighborhood for young and old, and a place where credit was extended to help families through difficult times. "John knew everyone in Brighton because everyone came to the pharmacy," said his cousin Linda Manning, who visited the soda fountain since childhood. "He and Mary were hard-working people who were very dedicated to the business, to each other and to their sister Mildred. They lived quiet, modest lives without vacations or an y personal luxuries. But they were also very generous people who were willing to help out their customers at a time of need. They were truly loved by Brighton residents."
It wasn't until John and Mary Rourke died, however, that the true extent of their generosity was revealed. Never having married, they willed their estates to Boston College, resulting in the record-breaking $3 million bequest.
As a result, Boston College has announced that it has named Physics Department Chairman Kevin Bedell to the newly established John H. Rourke Chair in Physics. Bedell, who assumes the chair on Sept. 1, is nationally known for his work on high-temperature superconductors.
A graduate of Dowling College who holds both a master's degree and a doctorate in physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, Bedell spent 10 years from 1986-96 on the staff at the US Atomic Testing Labs at Los Alamos, NM, where he led research in an area called
" physics. Since being named chairman of the Physics Department three years ago, Bedell has transformed the department, which has witnessed an influx of talented junior faculty and a significant increase in external funding for research.
The Physics Department is striving to become a national center for research in novel electronic materials. In the meantime, a hardware upgrade is in the works for the department's super-powered computer system, one of the strongest to be found on a US campus; and the department's home, Higgins Hall, is in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation.
"I am particularly honored to be named to a chair born out of the hard work of an Irish-American family in a melting-pot city neighborhood," said Bedell who was raised in a single-parent family of 13 in Queens, NY.
"The Rourke Professorship caps an incredible year. There is a real sense of energy, excitement and optimism in the Physics Department at BC. I look forward to honoring the memory of the Rourkes through the work of this department."
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