Robert John Burrowes
07 Aug 1963 - 23 Oct 2015
Robert J. “Bob” Burrowes, local chef, leather man and founding member of the Independence Squares, died Oct. 23 of kidney failure. He was 52.
Burrowes was born in Staten Island, N.Y., on Aug. 7, 1963. He moved to Philadelphia in 1987 to attend The Restaurant School. After graduating in 1989, he worked at the Four Seasons, the legendary Frog Commissary and as a private chef. His love for fine food and entertaining lasted throughout his life. He also had a career in retail, working at The Gap, Pier 1 Imports and Urban Outfitters.
In 1987, he met his future partner, Don Lewis. Shortly after graduating school, Burrowes moved to Wayne to live with Lewis and build a comfortable home, where they entertained frequently and cared for a series of cats, mostly strays they saved.
Burrowes became active in the local LGBT community as soon as he arrived. He was a founding member of the Independence Squares dance club in 1988. He later became one of the “Seven Deadly Pledges,” when he and six other men joined Philadelphians MC during the same month in 1999. They lived up to their nickname as they became notorious for mischief, not only in the local leather community but also up and down the East Coast while traveling to brother club events. Philadelphians MC elevated Burrowes to Life Brother status earlier this year in recognition of his contributions to the club.
In 2001, Burrowes found the perfect way to combine his personal and professional lives when he became a founding partner of the Gear Box, a leather shop located in the basement of The Bike Stop. Until 2007, the Gear Box was an important hub that provided support, fellowship and camaraderie for the community.
John Loesch, former captain of Philadelphians MC, met Burrowes in the early 1990s. “I immediately felt a connection because of our mutual love of music, great food, cooking and gardening,” he said. “I’ll miss our talks, laughs and traveling together. My life was profoundly affected by having him in it. Behind that New York sense of humor lived a class act and a dear friend.”
“Bob was outgoing and quick to make friends, with a slyly wicked sense of humor and a mischievous twinkle in his eye,” remembered Shawn Kilgallon, fellow square dancer. “We had countless laughs, fun nights and a few collisions at LGBT square dances that eventually formed into Independence Squares. Bob’s love of food and cooking was an inspiration and a gift.”
One of Burrowes’ most notable achievements was not completely intentional. In 2009, he was informed that the hospital at the University of Pittsburgh could not proceed with his liver transplant because it would not be covered by Medicare, due to his HIV status. The AIDS Law Project successfully fought on his behalf and helped set precedent for Medicare coverage of organ transplants for those with HIV.
“Bob touched so many people,” Lewis said. “For over 10 years, if you attended a Philadelphians MC event, you probably ate food prepared by Bob. If you were new to town and went to The Bike Stop, you probably visited the Gear Box and were welcomed to the city by Bob. And then there’s all the people who’ve been able to get transplants because of Bob and the AIDS Law Project.”
In addition to Lewis, Burrowes is survived by his mother Helene (Taverna), sisters Kelly Cozza (Stephen) and Robynn Burrowes-Tibbels (Brian), two nephews, one niece and many cousins. He was predeceased by his father, Robert John Burrowes, Sr.
Services will be private, but a celebration of life will be held soon in Philadelphia for all friends and family who wish to remember Burrowes. Memorial contributions can be made in his name to the AIDS Law Project (www.aidslawpa.org).
Bob Burrowes, square dancer extraordinaire and an irreverent rascal to boot. He made every event he attended an event to remember. Bob was a member of the very first class in the fall of 1988 for the yet to be named Independence Squares and attended Peel the Apple in New York City in July 1989 when the group was accepted into the IAGSDC as a member. His sense of fun and irreverence brought so much life to the club and is missed to this day.
One of our favorite memories of Bob was one from a non-square dance event. It was on New Year’s Eve and we were in the basement bar of the Bike Stop in Philadelphia. We were chatting with Bob, when my then, soon to be ex, brother-in-law walked up to us while wearing a feathered tiara. Without missing a beat, Bob said, “Who’s the fucking cockatiel?” and continued the conversation with no further acknowledgement of the cockatiel. His delivery was priceless and still cracks us up.
— Mike Rutkowski and Tim Harper
At Remake The Circle, 1993
- Philadelphia Gay News (Philadelphia, PA) Thursday, 29 Oct 2015
- Email, 15 Aug 2020