LAmag.com, July 28, 2009
“I drove by Bullocks Wilshire today,” my husband said to me last night, “and I couldn’t help looking at it differently.” He didn’t need to say anything further. The landmark art deco department store on east Wilshire Boulevard is now home to the Southwestern Law School, where Lily Burk’s mother teaches. It was there that 17-year-old Lily went on an errand to help out her family last Friday, only to be abducted while walking back to her car on a sunny day and murdered—allegedly by a repeat offender on a day pass from rehab. It was a horrific end to a short, rich life.
I remember Lily only as a baby and a toddler, all curly hair and energy. Her dad, Greg, was the chief copy editor at the L.A. Weekly during my tenure there. For a long time we sat at desks next to each other. Greg is a brilliant guy—quiet, droll, intensely focused, a former punk rocker whom, years after I left the Weekly in 1995, I would catch on VH1 when my husband would yell from the other room, “Greg Burk is on TV talking about heavy metal again!” Greg and I lived in the same neighborhood in the old Weekly days, and a few times I pulled over on my way to work to offer him—strolling along in his black jeans, his sack lunch swinging by his side—a ride. Nope, he’d say. He liked the air, and he liked the exercise. If Greg is a man of few words, his wife Deborah Drooz is a woman of many—and brilliant as well, one of L.A.’s most prominent libel lawyers and the kind of conversationalist whose opinions and anecdotes can make you smile weeks after you’ve spent an hour with her. When they had their daughter and Greg told me her name, I remember thinking how beautiful it was: Lily Burk. It sounded like a silent film star.
I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Lily as a young woman. From friends and friends of friends I gather she had grown into someone who was every bit her own person: sweet, smart, artistic, eccentric, giving. I can’t imagine her parents nurturing anything less. She was a National Merit Scholar, a talented writer who cared about those in this city who had so much less than she did, volunteering at a needle exchange program in Westlake.
I sat next to her mom and dad, unexpectedly, at a dinner party last year. I asked after Lily—I have a teenager at home, too, and Deb and I traded some notes. It was clear that Lily was Deb’s best friend.
Like so many, I’ve thought about Greg and Deb again and again since hearing the news last weekend. When the family released a statement, they asked, “If there is anything that people can take away from this horrible tragedy, it’s that life is fragile and that they should live every minute of it fully.” Words of such strength and grace, from two parents so undoubtedly mired in grief.
The old Bullocks Wilshire has a tarnished copper spire that I’ve always loved to spot from all over town. From now on, when I see that spire I’ll do everything I can to not see a moment when this city let Greg and Deb and Lily down in the worst way. Instead I will remember that for 17 years there was someone named Lily who made Los Angeles a better place.