Executive Councilor Raymond S. Burton says his cancer has returned and he will not seek re-election next year.
Burton issued a statement Sunday saying he has been in and out of the hospital for treatment recently and plans to return to his home in Bath to rest. He plans to fulfill his terms on both the Executive Council and Grafton County Commission, which run through 2014.
Burton has served as executive councilor for most of the northern half of the state for 35 years.
"I wish to thank my fellow residents of New Hampshire for giving me the privilege to serve them," Burton said in his statement. "All decisions and matters addressed were always in the best intention to see our state succeed. I am honored to have been allowed to serve and work to make a difference in the Granite State."
Burton, 74, underwent chemotherapy for kidney cancer in February and March. He said in April that scans showed no signs of cancer around his kidney and he planned to run for re-election in 2014 and again in 2016.
Concerns about his health resurfaced this month when Burton, who rarely missed a meeting, participated by phone during the Executive Council meeting Oct. 16.
In a statement distributed Sunday by B.J. Perry, a veteran within the state GOP and advisor to the councilor, Burton confirmed that his cancer had returned.
"I've had the privilege of working for nearly four years with Councilor Burton," Perry told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Sunday. "In that time I've worked very hard to try to work as hard as he has in doing everything. Today was probably the toughest statement I've ever had to send out for him."
First elected to the Executive Council in 1976, Burton is known throughout the state and well beyond the vast area of Council District 1, which extends from the Canadian border to the Lakes Region and west to the Claremont area and Upper Valley.
"Public service is a labor of love for Councilor Burton, who has established an unmatched record of achievement," U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said in a statement. "I am deeply saddened by his announcement. No one has fought harder for his constituents than Ray, who has been a passionate and tireless voice for the North Country for decades."
Ayotte said she worked closely with Burton and grew to know him well during her years as attorney general.
"He always did his homework, always asked tough questions and carried in his heart the best interests of his district and our state," the Republican said in a statement.
Former Gov. John H. Sununu also issued a statement shortly after Burton's announcement, asking all New Hampshire residents to keep the state's longest-serving elected official in their thoughts and prayers.
"I was always impressed with his dedication and deep commitment to his constituents," said Sununu, who served three terms as governor. "No one has done more to stand up for the North Country than Ray, and his institutional knowledge and bipartisan leadership will be missed on the Executive Council."
Current Gov. Maggie Hassan also issued a statement thanking Burton for his decades of "unmatched" public service to the state.
"I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to serve alongside Councilor Burton and I deeply appreciate his invaluable knowledge and deep commitment to the Granite State," Hassan said.
Burton lost only one bid for re-election to the Executive Council, in 1978. He regained his seat in the 1980 campaign and has served on the state council ever since, picking up the nickname "Burton for Certain."
Burton established his reputation and a personal connection with his constituents by attending most any event he could. Even during his chemotherapy, Burton had someone represent him when his health wouldn't allow it.
"Every event I get an invitation to is covered," Burton said in April.
Jennifer Horn, chairwoman of the state GOP, said it was difficult to imagine an Executive Council without Ray Burton.
"There will never be another public servant like Councilor Ray Burton," Horn said. "He is simply irreplaceable and his difficult decision is an enormous loss for our state. New Hampshire is thankful for his outstanding service and our thoughts and prayers are with him during these trying times."
Democratic Congresswoman Annie Kuster described Burton as "a fixture of governance and service in New Hampshire since I was a young girl." "Ray's kindness, compassion, and commitment will set the bar for generations of public servants to come," Kuster said in a written statement. "We send our deep appreciation and abiding affection to Ray. Our thoughts and prayers join thousands more across the state, wishing him well in his recovery."firstname.lastname@example.org