Chris Burd talks about husband's suicide

The Burds' commercials were a common sight on local TV.

Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Lawrence - The Burd family is well-known around central Indiana. Raising four children while running the family car dealership kept them very busy. But what happened one night changed their lives forever.

It's a new role and a new reality for Chris Burd at the Burd Ford Dealership in Lawrence.

"It's different to see her by herself," said a co-worker.

Since Valentine's Day at age 14, it was Chris and Rich. Central Indiana residents knew them from local car advertisements. They even referred to their relationship in the ads sometimes:

"Hi...I'm Chris Burd and I'm Rich Burd...after 22 years of marriage and four kids..we're still looking for a great value."

They were a team who viewed an $8 million new dealership as an investment in the family's future.

"He always wanted a dealership to put his name on it because he loved that song, 'Burd's the word,'" said Chris.

"We built it in 2006. We moved in December 4th, 2006 and the economy crumbled soon after," she said. "Business was tough."

It seems nobody knew how deeply competition, layoffs and economic uncertainly were weighing on Rich Burd.

"His whole personality is whatever bad happens in the economy or in the car business or with other dealers, he takes it personally. Everything he took personally. It was like what did I do to deserve this?" recalled Chris.

Their final conversations were about their future.

"We would talk about business all the time; whether it was good or bad, we'd always talk about it. And so we were at night talking and we were in his office and we were just discussing what we were going to do for 2010 and he says, 'I got to go into work and put things down on paper in my office.' Okay, fine; I didn't think anything odd about that but then at 10:30 he still wasn't home and so the kids and I got in the car and came over and said, 'Hey, you coming anytime soon?' and he said, 'Yeah, I will be home. Don't worry.' And we left and I went to bed and then 2:30 in the morning I woke up and he's not next to me and I thought that's weird," said Chris.

"I'm calling his cell phone; no answer. So that is when I came here and I only live two miles down the street so I came up here and that is when I panicked. Like, okay, his car is here; he's in the dealership. I don't have a key and so that is when I called the police," she said.

Police went in first. "They just said that there was an accident and you can't go in right now," said Chris. "We thought maybe a heart attack or, you know, we were thinking something like that because he was so stressed out. Maybe he had a heart attack."

But it was suicide.

"I mean, nobody saw that coming," she said.

Rich left a note, writing "everything that I've always known - that I was the light of his life and he's always loved me and it said don't be mad at him. You know, don't be mad; I am doing this for you," said Chris.

More money was needed for the dealership, "and from what he did it made it possible for me to do that without going down any other avenues. But there were other avenues to take."

Chris went home to share the news with their four children, Catherine, Nick, Jack and Cyd.

"I had to get them up out of bed. I had to get them all up out of bed and I put them in my bedroom on the bed and told them, and it was awful," said Chris.

"It's all a blur, those three days," said Catherine.

"I walk in and she's crying and she said told me that dad had passed, I started crying. I didn't say a word for like a week to anyone. I stayed in my room. I just didn't see it coming," said Nick.

"It was the worst day of my entire life. The absolute worst day," said Chris.

Some 2,000 people attended services, paying tribute to Rich's generosity.

"I had the mayor of Indianapolis come and the mayor of Lawrence come," said Chris, showing Eyewitness News hundreds of cards and emails she received from well-wishers.

"I've had a couple people say that he took the easy way out and I thought - hmm, no, that's the hardest thing he could have ever done," she said.

"Why would I be angry?" she said. "He was a great guy and he did it for me. How can I be mad at somebody that makes the ultimate sacrifice for me?"

But for son Nick, he is feeling some anger. "Most definitely...he didn't tell us. He didn't give us a plan. He just left."

It happened three months ago and now the family is sorting through what comes next.

Thursday night on Eyewitness News, the family talks about the decision behind putting son Nick in the commercials, Nick's first game without his father on the sidelines and why Chris Burd isn't taking a paycheck.

Suicide prevention - Learn how to spot the danger signs

Part Two: Family impact

Nick Burd plays center on his Lawrence Township Basketball League team.

"I've been playing basketball for 11 years," he said.

This season, every team has the initials RB on their Jersey in honor of Nick's dad. Rich was ever present at Nick's games.

"It's my first game without him watching me play or coaching me," he said.

As for Chris Burd, she works every day less than ten feet from where her husband of 23 years was found.

"This is Rich's office. His coat is still on the back of his chair. I haven't moved that," she said.

She is keenly aware that her success or failure will multiply.

"Families rely on this place, us included," she said.

For more than a decade, the couple worked together. Now, it's all on Chris. She made the difficult decision to do a new commercial shortly after her husband died.

"I had to get on the air quickly because I had to let the community know that I am here to stay and so a week later I wrote a commercial and said I could do the commercial myself. To the kids I said I can do the commercial by myself but if you guys want to be in the commercial I would love it. And no one took it except for Nick."

"None of my siblings want to do it and I'm like I'll do it," he said.

"When we get out there the first time, the first take, I'm looking next to me and he's the same age as Rich was when I first started dating him and he looks just like him, so I am looking next to him I am like, 'Oh, my gosh, it looks just like Rich."

Catherine, another of the Burds' children, didn't object to the ad.

"I like it. It's cute. He looks a lot like my dad and sounds like him so it's weird seeing him but I like it I'm glad he did it," she said.

Chris quickly rehired managers who left when the economy tanked.

"I told all my managers in my first meeting, I said, I will not take a dime out of this dealership until 2013. And I said then we'll relook at it. I might not take any at 2013. I don't know, but I have two years that I want to focus on getting this dealership rock solid and no questions asked from Ford motor company. They are behind me 100 percent and I just want to make sure that I do everything possibly can to be their favorite," she said.

She is pushing service and cutting costs.

"I sold 1,437 cars last year and last year was a terrible year, so I would expect to sell between 120 and 150 cars a month," she said.

"At times I feel like I've done this and you know everything is firing on all cylinders and it's great and other times it's hard to get out of bed. But it's not just the business that is overwhelming. It's the children, because I know they are missing out on an awesome guy. They are missing out on their father."

The eldest, Catherine, a Ball State sophomore, read the note her father left.

"It was my dad he's saying just how much he loves us and he told us that every day, more than once a day," she said.

Nick, a Lawrence Central sophomore, wants to move.

"Just living in this house just reminds me of everything of him," he said. "I've been in his closet to get a tie or something like that and it just makes me break down and cry because of all his clothes that are still in there."

Jack and Cyd are the younger kids.

"I think they are doing better than the older kids just because I think the younger you are, it's not that it's less difficult; it's just that it is - I don't think they understand the full ramifications of it," said their mom.

The children worry about their mother being alone. She married Rich at 18.

"They were like teenagers all the time like kissing in the kitchen. We're like, oh stop, but no they really loved each other more than anyone I had ever seen," said Catherine.

"I still talk to him a lot and I really feel him around I don't feel him gone. I hope I never feel that way," said Chris.

The Burd family shared their story in part to emphasize that suicide is not a solution.