1992 Winner: George Burley
“It’s just absolutely electrifying, thrilling and unlike any feeling in the world when your name is called,” the 1992 winner said of the moment he heard his name declared winner of the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest.
“The prizes were great, and the international exposure was unbelievable. Media from Seattle to Spain, Japan, and Canada interviewed me. I ended up on the front page of a newspaper in Ecuador. I had friends from all over the world send me clips from their local papers.”
Although friends and neighbors and strangers over the years told George Burley he favored Ernest Hemingway, he still insists that a striking resemblance is not the most important attribute.
“If you look at all the existing judges,” he observes, “not one of them looks the same as any of the others. Looks are important, but it’s the image more than the physical appearance. When you have 150 people in a contest, 149 of them are going to lose. Some get a little bitter when they lose, but the majority are here to enjoy it all.” George applauds the new directions of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society into community activism.
“In the last few years, we’ve developed into a charity supporting college kids. A lot of contestants enjoy doing that, because even if they don’t win, they know they’re supporting a good cause. It’s fun to be around these people.”
Born October 2, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, George pulled Korean military service before returning to Michigan State University.
“It was great. Back then, the GI Bill paid you $110 a month. And if you got married, the wife was worth another $25.”
After graduation from MSU, along the banks of the old Red Cedar―”the only rubber-bottom river in the world”―George went to work for Ford Motor Company on the East Coast, then he toiled for Volkswagen as district sales manager before he moved on to a dealership in Akron, Ohio.
“They came out with a crummy car in 1974, so I switched to Datsun,” he said.
Seven years later, George got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
There was a Cadillac dealer in town who wanted his dealership so much more than he did. He let him do it. For a pretty penny, for sure. Semi-retired, the Burleys moved to Florida and now live on an island at the mouth of Tampa Bay.
Each year, he and his wife Ali make the southernmost sojourn as he serves as a contest judge.
“We have four daughters, and the only time they can get to Key West is then,” he said. “They wouldn’t miss that for anything.” Daughter Melissa not only shared Hemingway’s birthday of July 21, but she once ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
George praises the family aspects of Hemingway Days. “It’s really a family-type thing. There are people here with their kids and their wives. There are so many good relationships that develop over the years. There’s a lot of good spirit. You can call it camaraderie if you want, but the blessing is being around pleasant people that you’ve known for a long time,” George said. “That makes it awfully nice.”
Even more pleasing was the moment when the Burley clan was eating in a restaurant, and a diner came up to George declaring, “You ought to enter the Hemingway Look-Alike contest.”
“I’ve already won it!” said the proud Papa, smiling as he recalled that sometimes elusive, but always thrilling, moment of victory.
On September 10, 2010, Papa 1992, George Burley succumbed to pulmonary fibrosis and left us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Ali and their family as we remember George’s ever-ready smile and words of encouragement.
In her note informing us of George’ passing, Ali wrote “Hemingway Days was always a highlight of
his year. He was happy to spend time with people who loved Hemingway as much as he did and he was proud of the scholarship fund the Hemingway Look-Alike Society established.”
We’ll miss you George.