After the granite monument commemorating Executive Councilor Ray Burton's role in serving the state and the North Country was unveiled on Friday at the just-completed scenic overlook on a stretch of Route 302 in Bretton Woods that is part of the National White Mountains Scenic Byway, Burton said, "I've really loved being in public office and in public life, providing public service to the people of New Hampshire." Gov. Maggie Hassan, left, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and former Gov. John Lynch all spoke at the ceremony, after being welcomed by state Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement, left rear. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
November 06, 2013BRETTON WOODS — Governor and Council met early on Friday, afternoon, Nov. 1, in the Gold Room at the historic Mount Washington Hotel where members accepted a portrait of District 1 Executive Councilor Ray Burton, Republican of Bath, which he donated to the state. Burton, who had announced the previous Sunday that his kidney cancer had returned and that he would not run for reelection to either the Council or the Grafton County board of commissioners, was on hand for what could be his last in-person participation in such a meeting. Although thin and frail, Burton warmly greeted other elected officials, both current and past, who had come to praise him for his unmatched record of public service to the state and the North Country, and to say both "au revoir" and Godspeed.
Burton has served for nearly 33 years on the Council, and nearly 23 years as a Grafton County commissioner.
Burton then rode with Gov. Maggie Hassan in the back seat of his "parade car," a 1975 yellow Oldsmobile Delta 88 convertible with the top down, in a vintage car motorcade down the Grande Dame's long driveway across Route 302 to the just-opened scenic overlook: a $1.4 million addition to the White Mountains Trail National Scenic Byway that can accommodate both tourists' cars and tour buses. Around 100 constituents holding "Burton for Certain — Thank you, Ray" signs stood near the tent, and the large crowd roared its approval as he arrived on site, exuberantly waving and doffing his hat.
The morning's lashing rain and high winds gave way to blue skies and white clouds, but the white tent with its podium and chairs was nonetheless welcome.
The poignancy of both occasions was leavened by the warm affection and admiration that elected officials on both sides of the aisle showed to the ailing Councilor and his good-humored participation in all facets of the ceremonial occasions as well as his obvious appreciation for all the fulsome tributes.
Hassan, who shared the master of ceremony role with Transportation Commissioner Christopher Clement, said, "Thank you for touching our lives and strengthening our state; we will be forever grateful."
When the handsome granite monument was unveiled at the overlook, Hassan said, "We can all rest assured that you will always be watching over the people of the North Country and its communities."
The governor said that Granite State citizens are shaped by the state's North Country terrain: mountains that are both "tall and tough," but are nonetheless below their summits are connected "just as we are as a people."
Hassan also explained that Burton's focus is always on his constituents and on making things work, but that he is always courteous and kind, even in the face of disagreement. "You are quick to defuse tension, and you are quick to offer compliments," she said. "Most of all you have always focused on the value of sheer participation in a citizen democracy."
Burton, who sat as a guest of honor in a straight-backed chair front of a crowd of hundreds in which many stood in the open air, said, "I really loved being in public office and in public life, providing public service to the people of New Hampshire." He appeared to enjoy every minute of the Governor's speech, as well as those of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat of Madbury, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of Nashua, former Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat of Hopkinton, and by Stephen Rice, once state DRED commissioner and now managing director of CNL Lifestyle Properties of Orlando, Fla., that owns the world-famous hotel. Former Gov. John Sununu and his wife Nancy and former Congressman Charlie Bass also warmly greeted Burton, recalling earlier days of campaigning as fellow Republicans.
The overlook, which commands a panoramic view of the Grand Hotel, the Cog Railway tracks, and the summit of Mount Washington plus other peaks in the Presidential Range, is a public-private partnership between the Omni Mount Washington Hotel, CNL Lifestyle Properties and New Hampshire. It will officially be named for Burton once legislation introduced by District 2 state Sen. Jeanie Forrester, a Republican of Meredith, is passed by the state Legislature.
Shaheen, who was one of the 10 governors with whom Burton worked, pointed out, "There are generations of people here who got into public service because of Ray's inspiration."
Ayotte, who previously served as state Attorney General, said, "No one works harder for their constituents than Ray Burton; no problem is too small or too large for him." She presented Burton with a copy of her remarks praising his service that were printed in the "Congressional Record." The junior senator said, "I wish that Washington would have a little Ray Burton spirit."
Former Gov. John Lynch recalled how unimpressed Burton had been when he interviewed him as a nominee to serve on the University System board of trustees back in the late 1990s. When Burton asked him what book he had read most recently, Lynch recalled that he replied, "Harry Potter," and that Burton was yet familiar with it.
On a more serious note, Lynch concluded, "Burton reflects what public service is all about; all elected officials report to the people."
Earlier in the day in the Gold Room where the documents establishing the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Reconstruction and Development were signed in July 1944, Councilor Christopher Pappas, a Democrat of Manchester, said, "In public service, you are the Gold Standard!"
District 1 State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat of Dalton who served as a Burton intern while in college, said that Councilor Burton had always wanted to bring state government to the North Country "where it belongs" and that on Friday he had achieved that goal.
The following note was sent out Monday by a friend of Burton: "As we continue to pray for our friend Ray, we have been advised by his medical staff that he is undergoing a structured treatment plan that requires complete rest. Accordingly, Ray will not be taking any visitors or phone calls at this time. He has expressed sincere gratitude to and been
bolstered by the outpouring of support, well wishes and prayers that have been sent his way."