In Memoriam: Roger E. Birk, Trustee Emeritus

Author: Dennis Brown

Candles in the Grotto
Candles in the Grotto

Roger E. Birk, a Trustee Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, died Nov. 5 after an eight-year battle with melanoma. He was 88.

“Roger was a valued member of our Board of Trustees, offering sound advice, always in a steady and thoughtful manner,” said Rev. Edward A. Malloy, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president emeritus. “May God bless and keep him.”

A native of St. Cloud, Minnesota, Birk earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, after which he served for two years in the U.S. Army.

Birk joined Merrill Lynch as a margin clerk in Minneapolis in 1954 and spent the next 31 years in positions of increasing responsibility. He was named president of the firm in 1974 and six years later became chairman and chief executive officer.

He was highly regarded by Merrill Lynch employees throughout his years with the company, and was known for his exceptional preparation. “You’ll never see Roger wing it,” one colleague told New York Magazine in a 1983 profile.

As CEO, Birk was a self-effacing leader who preferred to deflect attention.

“I get my greatest satisfaction from seeing other people successful,” he said in the New York Magazine story.

Birk retired from Merrill Lynch in 1986 but remained active in a variety of ventures, including service as president of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), directing and coordinating the development and implementation of the company’s operating policies and programs. He was a member of the Business Roundtable, the President’s Commission on Executive Exchange and the President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control and served as a director and vice president of the New York Stock Exchange.

In addition to Notre Dame, Birk served on the boards of Fannie Mae, Mutual of America, New Jersey Resources Corp., Penske Inc., TW Services and Wellpoint. He was chairman of the National Advisory Council at St. John’s University, president of the New York Multiple Sclerosis Society and a member of the PGA Tour policy board.

Birk is survived by his wife of 63 years, Mary Lou, and three daughters: Dr. Kathleen Birk; Mary Colas and her husband, Tim; and Barbara Birk. He is also survived by nine grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, Steven Birk.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held Nov. 9 at St. Jude Catholic Church in Tequesta, Florida.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations to Treasure Coast Hospice, 1201 SE Indian St., Stuart, Florida, 34997, or to St. Vincent de Paul, 3757 S. Military Trail, Suite 9, Lake Worth, Florida, 33463.