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Charlie Burrell was good with one-liners.

Known at work for both professionalism and jokes, he made employees around Seattle’s PBS station KCTS laugh during his decades as a broadcast operations supervisor.

He joked with the nurses during his cancer treatments after a 2014 diagnosis of multiple myeloma. “It’s all good,” he would say as he was poked with needles over and over again.

“He thought he was so funny,” said his wife, Diane.

Mr. Burrell died April 11 from complications related to the coronavirus, after being hospitalized for nine days. He was 78.

Born on Jan. 25, 1942, in Monroe, Louisiana, Mr. Burrell grew up in Bremerton and went to Olympic College. He served in the Army in Korea starting in 1965 before beginning work at KCTS in the late 1960s.

He met Diane in 1973 when a mutual friend introduced them, but they broke up the first time they dated. It took them a couple tries over the years before settling down in 1998, with Charlie raising Diane’s two daughters from another marriage as his own. When they finally got married in 2003, friends and family said it was about time.

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At KCTS, Mr. Burrell managed the engineering side of the station, a team tasked with putting programs on the air and overseeing equipment on in-house productions. He was known for following the rules, being a strong union supporter for the technical personnel he oversaw, and striving to create equal opportunities for his employees.

He was promoted into a supervisory position at KCTS in 1978, around the same time Maureen Rossmeier was hired onto his staff. Rossmeier, who uses a wheelchair, said Mr. Burrell encouraged her professionally as both mentor and later as a close friend. Rossmeier is now the station’s engineering manager.

“I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Charlie,” she said.

Mr. Burrell had a lifelong love of sports, from coaching decades of youth football teams whose pictures he kept on his desk, to his pride in the memorabilia he hoarded from the two Olympics he worked while at KCTS. He was an avid watcher of sports but didn’t support any particular teams; when he watched the Super Bowl, he rooted for the underdog.

He was an avid music collector, owning thousands of vinyl records, cassette tapes and CDs. He loved gospel and soul music, with The Isley Brothers and Bobby Womack as particular favorites. He always played music in the house, even while he was watching sports games or “Matlock” on television.

Mr. Burrell stopped working at KCTS in the 1990s, and worked a series of smaller jobs before reaching Social Security age. The last time Stephen Hegg, a KCTS producer who worked with Mr. Burrell in the 90s, saw Mr. Burrell was in a Safeway two or three years ago. Mr. Burrell was drinking coffee at an in-store Starbucks when Hegg asked him what he was up to in retirement.

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“I’m sitting on my porch watching the grass grow,” Mr. Burrell said. “You oughta give that a try.”

Diane plans to postpone a memorial for her husband until next spring, when she hopes it will be safe for a proper service and a graveside 21-gun salute. She said she has received thousands of cards, flowers and phone calls since Mr. Burrell’s death, so even without the service she’s seen people remember her husband.

“He was very well loved,” she said. “Very well loved.”

Mr. Burrell is survived by Diane, his sisters Paula Clark and Augustine White, his brother Michael Porch and his daughters Dana Diers and Shiva Bernard.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Charlie Burrell served in the Korean War. He served in Korea. 

(Design by Frank Mina / The Seattle Times)
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