ROCHESTER, N.Y., DEC. 11 -- David Burke kept stacks of cash in his pocket, loved his seven children and revered his cars, especially the Mercedes, BMW and Lincoln. His friends and family say Burke thought he really only had one problem: He felt he should have advanced further and faster.

The handsome, hard-working former airline employe told friends that if he had been white, supervisors might have promoted him more often.

But until Burke and 42 other passengers aboard Pacific Southwest Airline Flight 1771 perished Monday, no one, it seems, knew he was so troubled.

Now, as rescuers sift through the debris of the PSA jet bound for San Francisco from Los Angeles, those who knew Burke are trying to explain the anger that apparently drove him to kill himself, his former boss, Raymond F. Thomson, and everyone else on the plane.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation thinks that Burke, 35, carried a .44-caliber Magnum onto the plane, walking by airport security guards who let him pass without screening.

Today, the FBI confirmed that Burke, before Flight 1771 nosed-dived into a California hillside, scrawled this note on an air-sickness bag to Thomson: "Hi Ray, I think it's sort of ironical that we end up like this. I asked for some leniency for my family, remember. Well, I got none and you'll get none."

On Nov. 19, Burke was fired from USAir after he allegedly stole $69 from the proceeds of in-flight liquor sales. He told Jo Ann Smith, the mother of three of his children, that he was suspended unfairly and that he would get his job back.

That was not the first time Burke felt mistreated. On July 15 he filed a discrimination complaint against USAir, arguing that he was demoted because of his race when he transferred last year from Greater Rochester International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport. Friends said he was crushed at the demotion to ticket agent and told them that a white woman with less experience got the customer service supervisor's job.

Julio Ramos, a skycap at Rochester's aiport, said Burke was "very friendly to everybody, but especially to blacks." Another airport employe here said Burke felt blacks deserved extra kindness because "they had a tougher time."

"He generally felt he had to work harder {than a white employe} to get ahead," said Smith.

But Iris Burke, David's 71-year-old mother, thinks her son was too smart to let these feelings overcome him. "He knew hard work is what gets you ahead," she said in her home in the Rochester suburb of Brighton. "He was ambitious. He bought a truck to shovel snow, he invested in real estate, he fixed cars. He was the jack-of-all-trades."

Despite Burke's feelings that he should have advanced further and faster, his family said he was a cheerful, generous man. He was unusually devoted to his children and shared his money and time with them, family members said.

"He was very likeable," Ramos added. "He had a lot of friends here."

Born in England, the son of Jamaican immigrants, David Augustus Burke came to Rochester when he was 6. Burke's father Altamont, a taxi driver at Rochester's airport, said his son had no reason to steal money or to end his life. "He carried thousands of dollars in his pocket, why would he take $69?" he asked.

Altamont Burke described his son as a "genius with money." On Thanksgiving Day, the Burkes gave their son $30,000 to invest, a sum that Smith said they had been saving for a lifetime.

"As long as I've known her {Iris Burke}," Smith said, "she has been saving. For 20 years she worked at the hospital and put everything but $20 away every week. That's all she lived on, $20."

The Burkes declined to discuss the whereabouts of the $30,000.

Twelve-year-old Tamika Burke said the last time she spoke to her father he told her " 'to do good in school.' He wanted us to have a good education and to go to college. He said he didn't want us growing up stupid."

Burke had planned to use USAir privileges to fly three of his children from Rochester to California for Christmas. But Smith said after he was suspended he would have had to pay the fares himself.

"He was always telling us jokes," Tamika said. "He brought us for rides in his truck when he was shoveling snow and on his motorcycle. I liked his motorcycle."

When Burke moved to Long Beach last year, friends said he hoped to leave behind some of his trouble.

While in Rochester, the FBI and local police had investigated him several times for drug trafficking and auto theft, but he was only charged once with petty larceny. In 1984, after being arrested for shoplifting $45 worth of goods from a local store, Burke pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, Rochester police officer Roy C. Ruffin said.

In 1985, Burke's name surfaced on "a confidential wiretap" that police used during a "major drug investigation" that involved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of marijuana and cocaine, Ruffin said. Burke never was the "primary target" of the investigation, which eventually led to the indictment of 24 people for alleged involvement in the trafficking of drugs from Jamaica to Rochester, police said.

Police informers said Burke used his airport connections to help transport drugs, but FBI agent Gene Harding said "the bottom line is we never arrested him. We never had the evidence."

Iris Burke, who lost another son, Joseph, when he died of a heroin overdose in 1980, said she had not slept since Monday. "I tried to not let it upset me. We all know we have to die."

Shaking hands with another taxi driver at Rochester airport, Altamont Burke said, "Now that makes two sons I lost. I lost my best son."