Steve's obituary photo is by Carl Jones
Salem-Steve Burgess, sweet brother and uncle, devoted friend, and dedicated member of First United Presbyterian Church of Salem New York, died at Saratoga Hospital on Wednesday, May 17, 2023 almost two years after a diagnosis of lung cancer. Steve was a gentle, quiet, and loving soul who loved to paint, care for his dogs, and call his friends and family. Through his terrible illness, he endured treatment bravely and without complaint.
Steve’s life began a long way from Salem, in New Delhi, India, where he was born in 1957, the youngest child of a diplomatic family. In Thailand, he was a boy scout and his troop once took a trek in the mountains with an elephant carrying their camping gear. He and his brother took train trips around the countryside.
Steve returned to the United States as a teenager and graduated from Montclair High School in New Jersey. Soon his life took a tragic turn with the onset of schizophrenia. For more than a decade he was in and out of mental institutions. But in his 30s he started to find his footing. It seemed a miracle, but much of it came from his own determination. He moved to East Greenwich, and, in 2005, to Salem.
Steve became a familiar sight around town, sometimes driving a pick-up filled with materials for many home improvement projects of his own design. He walked his dogs at Salem Art Works. He got coffee and cigarettes at Stewart’s, casseroles at the St. Paul’s food pantry.
Steve studied art as a young man and came to be accomplished with a brush, creating a distinctive style of soft pastels and bold brush strokes. He always painted from imagination, not real life. He once called himself an “armchair painter,” because he didn’t set up an easel outside. He shared his art in exhibits in Salem, Greenwich, Cambridge and Schuylerville. In his early years he focused on scenes from nature. In his later, he painted scenes from the Bible, reflecting his deepening Christian faith.
Steve was welcomed by the congregation at First United Presbyterian Church and became involved in many aspects of the church’s life. He served on the outreach committee and was a regular at its Bible study sessions. Sometimes his dogs came along. Toward the end of his life, he was talking of becoming a deacon.
Steve’s family and friends miss him. Mental illness created many challenges, but Steve managed to live a productive and independent life. He loved Salem and found ways to contribute to the community. In an artist statement, Steve wrote, "Some sort of connection with the natural world in our daily lives is essential to our physical and mental wellbeing. I feel fortunate to live in the area of the country that I love the most."
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