In Bretton Woods, N.H. political leaders pay tribute to ailing Ray Burton
Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
For 35 years, Ray Burton has driven down to Concord, taken his seat at the Executive Council table and argued for the people and interests of northern New Hampshire.
Yesterday, Concord came to him.
A bipartisan throng of friends and supporters, current and former council members, state lawmakers, governors and members of Congress drove to Bretton Woods to honor the ailing Burton, who is battling cancer and announced last weekend he wouldn’t seek a 19th term on the Executive Council in 2014.
“On behalf of the people of New Hampshire, from the bottom of our hearts, thank you for making your life’s work the people’s work,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan. “Thank you for touching our lives and strengthening our state. We will be forever grateful.”
At a special meeting in the historic Mount Washington Hotel, the Executive Council voted to accept a portrait of Burton, “The Public Servant,” by painter Craig Pursley, which will eventually hang in the council’s second-floor office at the State House.
Then, Burton rode with Hassan in an antique yellow Oldsmobile convertible, leading a caravan of classic cars to the dedication of a new scenic overlook on U.S. Route 302 facing the hotel, where a marker honoring Burton was unveiled.
The signs waved by a crowd of well-wishers summed up the day: “Burton for Certain” – “Thank You, Ray!”
Burton, a Bath Republican, didn’t miss the opportunity to do a little politicking, either, shaking hands from his wheelchair and pointing out that the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook is the product of a public-private partnership that leveraged federal money.
“I should note that as we were riding down here, Ray lobbied me for some appointments,” Hassan announced to laughter.
Burton, 74, was first elected to the five-member Executive Council in 1976. He lost his seat in 1978, regained it in 1980 and has been re-elected every two years since. He has also long served as a Grafton County commissioner.
The praise for Burton yesterday, at both the reception and the council meeting, was unstinting: as a friend and mentor, as a tireless public official dedicated to constituent service, as the North Country’s biggest booster.
“Ray absolutely reflects what public service is all about. Ray understands so well that all elected officials report to the people, rather than the other way around. And because of Ray and all that you have done, we can say categorically that the North Country and the state of New Hampshire are so much better off,” said former governor John Lynch.
“You have taught every single person in this room the very best ideals of extraordinary public service. And I daresay that no one has or will impact or touch the North Country like you have,” said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a former attorney general.
“It is fitting that at this, one of the most beautiful scenic vistas in New Hampshire, we will have a marker, Ray, to recognize every day the difference that you have made for the North Country and New Hampshire,” said former governor and current U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “We are so grateful. Thank you.”
As for Burton, he said it’s all been worth it.
“I’m very, very happy with what I’ve done with my public life. I regret no vote that I’ve had – and every two years, a councilor casts about an average of 5,000 different votes,” Burton told the crowd.
He added, to a standing ovation, “The bottom line is, it’s for public service to the people of New Hampshire.”
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)