Burton honored as North Country son, neighbor & family member

U. S. Senator Kelly Ayotte chatted on Saturday with Joseph "Joe" Kenney of Wakefield, one of three candidates vying for the Republican nomination for the vacant District I Executive Council seat, before Councilor Ray Burton's memorial service at PSU. Kenney served from 2002 to 2008 as District 3 state Senator and then lost his 2008 campaign for governor running against incumbent Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat who won his third term. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
December 18, 2013
PLYMOUTH — Executive Councilor Ray Burton was not only remembered for his outstanding "Gold Standard" constituent and public service at Saturday's memorial service at Plymouth State University (PSU), but also for his personal qualities: humility, grace, good humor, kindness, respect, dedication, hard work, patriotism, and community-mindedness.

A private service for family members and the Bath community had been held earlier at the Bath Congregational Church following his death on Tuesday, Nov. 12, from kidney cancer at age 74.

Ray Burton stood up for and fought for the North Country for nearly 40 years with a passion and commitment that never can be matched, Gov. Maggie Hassan of Exeter recalled, calling him a son of the North Country and a member of everyone's family.

"No issue, no event, no request was too small for Ray Burton," Hassan said. "If it mattered to a constituent, then it mattered to Ray, and he would try to do something about it."

Ray Burton was the embodiment of the grand vision held by the founding fathers of a self-governing people, Hassan explained.

"In New Hampshire we do democracy better than anywhere on earth," she said. "Our history and our future depend on the dedication of those who consider themselves ordinary but whose dedication is extraordinary; it is this that makes our democracy possible."

The governor said that although she misses Burton's physical presence, she recognizes that the way to truly honor his legacy is to focus on the people of New Hampshire, to work hard and work together, living his example of service.

PSU President Sara Jayne Steen opened the service by welcoming the audience that numbered in the hundreds, pointing out that Burton was a friend to everyone and genuinely wanted to help those in need.

"He was there for everyone who needed him, advocating for what was fair and right, tireless in his commitment," Steen said. "Robert Frost … said his goal in life was to unite his avocation with his vocation, to spend his days doing what inspired him. Ray achieved that; he shaped a life around bettering a place he loved."

Former Gov. John Lynch noted the Granite State was better off because of the great difference that Burton had made in so many lives.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen recalled the day she had spent being escorted by Burton around District I shortly after she becoming Gov.-elect in Nov. 1996. He took her on a whirlwind tour, starting with breakfast at his alma mater Plymouth State, with later stops at the North Country Council at The Rocks in Bethlehem, the state offices on Route 3 in Lancaster, Wausau Paper in Groveton, and Camp E-toh-anee in Colebrook, plus a stop at a selectmen's meeting in Gorham.

Burton was not only energetic and knowledgeable, Shaheen said, but he knew all the many people they met that day and understood their hopes and aspirations.

"Ray would send lengthy letters, all of them ending in 'May I hear from you?'" Shaheen also recalled. "You knew when you got a letter from Ray, you'd better respond in some way to help or you'd hear back from him!"

She credited state Sen. Jeff Woodburn of Dalton, one of Burton's college interns, for pointing out that with Burton's death the North Country had lost a three-word sentence of advice: "Call Ray Burton."

"We will never forget him," concluded Shaheen.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte said that she treasured the time she had spent with Councilor Burton when she served first as Deputy Attorney General and then Attorney General. "He was a friend to everyone in good times and in times when things weren't going well — he was a neighbor to all," the junior senator said. "He was always fighting for his constituents and trying to promote the public good." He had common sense and sought the practical course; he was independent and willing to stand up for what he believed was right, she said.

Ayotte, like other speakers, pointed out that Burton always reminded the state's leaders, "There's life north of Concord!" He handed out his campaign combs," she said, holding one up, and he often wore "Burton for Certain" hats.

In his quiet and humble way he inspired many to pursue public service, including a high percentage of his 130-plus interns, Ayotte said. "No one will ever replace Ray Burton; we will continue to look to Ray as a model of how to get things done with decency, dedication, and energy."

The best way to honor Ray is to replicate his joyful commitment to helping others, keeping him in our hearts, she said.

State Sen. Lou D'Allesandro of Manchester, a former Executive Councilor, recalled that he first met Burton in then-Gov. Walter Peterson's Corner Office. "We were both recent college graduates and teachers.

"We are all blessed to say Ray Burton was our friend," D'Allesandro said. "You know when I think of Ray Burton I think of 'Hey! I'm doing what I love, and I love what I do. Every day!'"

The state senator said that when he went to see his old friend during his last days of life, Burton had told him, "I'm satisfied with my life." What better thing can we all say when life is nearly done, D'Allesandro asked rhetorically.

"Life is about relationships," he said. "Ray was my friend and my colleague for some 50 years; he cared as much about me as I cared about him. It will always be 'Burton for Certain.'"

Trevor Chandler, a 2008 Burton intern, 2009-2009 student body president, and 2009 PSU graduate called the late Executive Councilor a great mentor to his 140-plus interns. "He instilled in all of us that the focus of public service is always about helping people," Chandler said. "He instilled in us that proud New Hampshire sense of individualism, but also a deep and unyielding sense of community and empathy."

Chandler explained that he was the one who got Burton onto Facebook in 2008, although it really was never the Councilor's own method of communication. Burton stuck with the tried-and-true: 3 x 5-inch index cards, campaign combs, oven mitts with the words, "No issue too hot to handle," a bag phone in his car, and disposable cameras.

The range of issues with which Burton dealt was mind-boggling, Chandler recalled, but no matter what he always treated everyone the same. "From Presidential candidates — and there were many — to those on their last legs, he treated everyone as a human being," he explained.

Longtime Burton family friend Duane Baxter presented an oil painting portrait to the people of New Hampshire that was painted three years ago by Craig Pursley, Burton's neighbor.

After being displayed for some months in the Executive Council Chamber on the second floor of the State House, it will hang next door in the Council's own office space.

Other highlights of the service included a gathering prayer by Director of PSU's campus ministry Katherine Tardif and the presentation of Colors by the Blended Color Guard: Sgt. Yair Balderrama, Department of Corrections; EMS Diane Carrier; Sgt. Gary Hebert, Littleton P. D., Trooper Maxim King of N. H. State Police; Capt. Chad Morris of the Grafton County Sheriff's Department; Sgt. Mark Ober, state Fish and Game; and Chief (Ret.) Suzanne Prentiss, Department of EMS, under the tutelage of Sgt. Dennis Wade of the N.H. State Police.

Col. Robert Quinn, Director, Division of N. H. State Police, led the Pledge of Allegiance.

The PSU Chamber Singers sang Katherine Lee Bates' "America the Beautiful" and Dolly Parton's "Light of a Clear Blue Morning."

Rev. Lyn Winter, Pastor, Shared Ministry in Lisbon-Landaff who is also managing director of the Weathervane Theatre in Whitefield, read Chapter 4, verses 8 and 9, of the "Letter to the Philippians" written by the Apostle Paul as part of her closing remarks and prayers.

Winter also contrasted Burton's humble and self-effacing use of his disposable camera with which he "embraced people" with the actions of world leaders earlier that week, including President Barack Obama, who had smiled as he posed for a "selfie" — a self-portrait taken with a camera cell phone — at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.

A reception in Prospect Hall followed the service.

When asked for his take on the day, former District I Sen. John Gallus of Berlin, replied, "It was a great service and a great tribute to Councilor Burton."

Burton earned a Bachelor's degree in 1962 from Plymouth Teachers College and served as a teaching principal in Andover and Warren. Those who would like to show their appreciation and affection for him are asked to consider supporting: the Hon. Raymond S. Burton '62 Public Service Scholarship, P. O. Box 17, Bath, NH 03740.

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