St. Louis County Councilwoman Kathleen Kelly Burkett has died at the age of 68.
Burkett, D-Overland, was diagnosed with cancer last year while serving as chairwoman of the St. Louis County Council. She continued to serve as a councilwoman while undergoing chemotherapy, but she had been absent from meetings the past few weeks.
In a statement Sunday, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley praised Burkett as someone who “took care of her constituents like they were her own family.”
“She loved representing the people of the 2nd Council District,” Dooley said. “My heart is heavy right now, but Kathy died the way she lived -- on her own terms. My prayers are with her family and I know she’s resting in peace.”
A longtime fixture in the St. Louis County Democratic Party, Burkett was the first woman to chair the St. Louis County Democratic Central Committee; she was chairwoman throughout most of the 1990s. She spent nearly 40 years assisting her family run a fee office in Overland.
In 2002, she was first elected to represent the council’s 2nd District, an area that encompasses St. Ann, Maryland Heights, Bridgeton and Hazelwood. Before that, she was a director on the Community Fire Protection District.
While on the council, Burkett was a fierce opponent of a countywide smoking ban. She also emerged as a key legislative ally to Dooley, especially after the council became more factionalized after his 2010 re-election. In recent years, her "yes" votes helped pass a county foreclosure mediation ordinance and extended the county's anti-discrimination ordinance to the LGBT community.
Dooley noted in his statement that he first met Burkett at the 1988 Democratic Convention “after she spilled coffee all over me.” He noted that the two “laughed about it and we we’ve been close from that day.”
“Kathy was a no-nonsense person who said what she meant and meant what she said,” Dooley said. “She was the consummate politician but she didn’t have any tolerance for petty politics or posturing. She never hesitated to let you know what she was thinking and when she gave you her word on something you could take it to the bank.”
Burkett was re-elected in 2012 and would have been up for re-election in 2016. According to the St. Louis County Charter, political party committees will pick the nominees to run a special election. The winner of that special election “shall take office immediately and shall hold office for the unexpired term.”