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District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton died Tuesday at age 74

Councilor Ray Burton displayed this map to show the size of his Council District 1 on Oct. 15, 2012, while campaigning one evening at Paige & Kim's Bakery in Jefferson. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
November 13, 2013
BATH — The North Country lost its most passionate advocate and steadfast public servant when District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton, a Republican who holds the state's record as the longest-serving Executive Councilor, died at 1:53 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Nov. 12, surrounded by friends.

Just two weeks ago on Friday, Nov. 1, at what was his last public appearance when the new scenic overlook on Route 302 in Bretton Woods was named for him, the 74-year old Councilor was roundly praised by elected officials on both sides of the aisle and ordinary citizens from all walks of life.

A Plymouth State College graduate and former school teacher, Burton was elected to his first two-year Council seat in 1977, lost it in 1979, and was re-elected in 1981; he died in office.

Less than three weeks ago, he had announced that because his kidney cancer had recurred he would not run again for either his seat on the five-member Executive Council or for his seat on the three-member Grafton County board of commissioners on which he served for 23 years.

After learning that Burton had died at his home, Gov. Maggie Hassan immediately ordered that flags be flown at half-mast all across the state and issued the following statement: "We have lost one of the most dedicated, caring and unwavering public servants that the State of New Hampshire has ever known. For nearly 40 years, Ray Burton stood up and fought for the people and communities of the North Country with a passion that can never be matched.

"For the people Ray represented, he was more than an Executive Councilor or County Commissioner — he was a member of the family. If a challenge or problem ever arose, you could call Ray Burton and he would do everything in his power to help. If a business, a student, a community leader was being honored, Ray Burton would be the first to applaud. If there was a parade, a potluck dinner, a public meeting, you knew that Ray Burton would be there.

"Even as his health prevented him from attending in person, Ray refused to miss Executive Council meetings, participating by phone without missing a beat or a vote. As much as any other person that I have ever known, Ray Burton understood the deep history and recognized the promising future of the Granite State. It has truly been an honor to serve by his side.

"With his passing, a hole has been left in the hearts and souls of all Granite Staters, and Tom and I are deeply saddened by the loss our friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones and all who have been touched by Ray Burton's unsurpassed commitment to the people of New Hampshire. He will truly be missed."

U. S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of Madbury, said, "He was a great friend to me and to everyone in the North Country. Ray was an incredible advocate for the people of northern New Hampshire, and his commitment to them will never be forgotten."

U. S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of Nashua, said, "This is a sad day for New Hampshire. Councilor Burton's passing marks the loss of a great New Hampshire statesman and a tireless champion for the North Country.

"Ray saw public service as a calling and a true joy. He was a constant presence in the communities of his district, always eager to make a difference in the lives of his constituents."

Grafton County Commissioner Michael Cryans, a Democrat of Hanover, said, "I have been very fortunate to have served side by side with Ray Burton over the last 16 years as County Commissioner in Grafton County. He was a true friend, leader, and political mentor. I had the distinct honor of being in more meetings with Ray than anyone. He loved helping people, especially after realizing he was their last advocate. He would often say: 'I will move your concern along, but I can't guarantee you will get the answer you want. If you don't hear back, let me know.' He always felt the person deserved an answer.

"In the last few weeks of his life while at the Cottage Hospital in Woodsville, he asked me if I thought he had lived a good life. I replied, 'Ray, none of us know how we will be judged, but if it is based upon the number of people you have helped, they will say, Ray, come to the front of the line.'"

District 2 state Senator Jeanie Forrester, a Republican of Meredith, said, "When I first decided to run for office, Ray was one of the first people that I went to for advice.

"Ray said, 'Jeanie Forrester, you just be you!' Words I took to heart.

"He took me under his wing and mentored me — I was truly fortunate, as have been so many others that he shared his wisdom and advice with. A few years ago the Grafton County Republican Committee started the Ray Burton Extraordinary Service Award to recognize Ray and encourage others to emulate his standard of excellence in constituent service. If every politician followed Ray's #1 priority, constituent service, our communities and our state would be so much better for it."

District 1 state Senator Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat of Dalton, said, "It is the end of era. For nearly four decades, Ray Burton reined over the North Country like a combination benevolent king and parochial ward politician. He was a true original, larger-than-life personality and person of immense kindness, decency, optimism and humor. Ray loved life and that makes letting him go very hard, but he's in a better place. In a sense, he has not died, he's been redistricted, and we can rest assured that he's lobbying the good Lord to look north. God Bless Ray Burton and the North Country as we endure such an enormous loss."

Congressman Annie Kuster, a Democrat of Hopkinton, said, "New Hampshire has lost one of its finest public servants, kindest souls, and most steadfast leaders. For nearly four decades, Ray served his community and state with unmatched dedication, always putting the needs of those he served above all else. His compassion and commitment to the North Country and New Hampshire set a standard for service that will inspire generations to come.

"There is no replacing Ray Burton, but Ray's memory will live on in the enormous good he did, in the countless lives he touched, and in the spirit of service he embodied."

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat of Rochester, called Councilor Burton "a dedicated public servant and an effective voice for the North Country."

At the time of this writing, no funeral arrangements had been announced.

An e-mail from the Friends of Ray Burton asked that instead of flowers, those who would like to should make a charitable donation to a worthy cause.

Memories are collecting on his Facebook page, and memories may also be emailed to this email address, rayburtonslist@gmail.com, where they are being collected for future memorials.

There will be no calling hours. A private service for family and members of the Bath Community will be held at the Bath Congregational Church.

The public is welcome to attend a service of celebration and remembrance of Ray's life that will be held on December 14 at 1 PM at Plymouth State University, Student Union Building, High Street, Plymouth, NH.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Raymond S. Burton Scholarship Fund, PO Box 17, Bath, NH 03740.

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