Ray Burton honored in Bretton Woods as he battles cancer
BRETTON WOODS - Tributes flowed Friday from friends, supporters and fellow political leaders - past and present - who gathered to honor Ray Burton's legendary public service.
From the heartfelt to the lighthearted, they included the joke that after decades of trying, Burton had finally succeeded in transferring New Hampshire's government seat from Concord to his beloved North Country.
Burton, a District 1 adviser to 10 governors who is now battling cancer, made the trip Friday in steady rain from his home in West Bath over Route 302 in his vintage yellow Oldsmobile convertible.
He arrived at the door of the historic Mount Washington Hotel in the center of the White Mountains, where the sun broke through in time for a brief Governor and Executive Council meeting. A large contingent of well-wishers that included many public servants, both of the Granite State's U.S. senators and half the governors he served over the years, was waiting for him in the Gold Room.
Burton, 74, is the state's longest-serving executive councilor. He's been on board since Jimmy Carter was President, and his famous effectiveness on behalf of constituents in his massive district quickly became the theme of the special meeting.
"You always make things happen," U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., told him. "Nobody can make more things happen than you."
To a round of laughter in the packed meeting room, Burton said, "I always had to keep an eye on District 4. It seems like we haven't done enough for Manchester."
Gov. Maggie Hassan and the council accepted a portrait of Burton painted by Bath artist Craig Pursley titled "The Public Servant." After being displayed in the State House, the painting will hang permanently in the Executive Council chamber, Hassan said.
Burton said he had come to appreciate more than anything "the health that we have." He announced earlier this year that he had been receiving treatment for kidney cancer, but expected to make a full recovery and continue with his duties. He's also a Grafton County commissioner.
Last week, however, Burton said the disease had returned and he would not seek reelection next year for a 19th two-year term.
A ceremony across the highway from the hotel followed the council meeting and marked the opening of a new scenic overlook.
There, Hassan continued the Burton tribute.
"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. Thank you for touching our lives and strengthening our state. We will be forever grateful," Hassan said.
Before he left the council meeting for the ceremony, Burton said, "You don't win every project, you don't win every vote."
Summing up his 35 years in office, Burton said it "adds up to only one thing, public service," prompting a loud round of applause that closed the meeting.