To The Daily Sun,
Although this week marks the one-year anniversary of Executive Councilor Ray Burton's death, today started much like every other day of the past 25 or so years. After my shower I gave a few quick pulls on my blue unbreakable "Vote For Raymond S. Burton" comb and I was on my way. Oh to be sure, 25 years ago I had a lot more hair, it wasn't grey, and the comb may have been red or black, but it was one of Ray's.
I don't recall where I first met Ray, but I remember he handed me a comb, pulled a 3 by 5 card out of his shirt pocket and wrote down my name and town. The next time I saw him he remembered my name. Now I don't care what folks say about Ray having a knack for names. Whatever talent he had for it, it also must have taken a fair amount of effort and concentration. And is there a better way to communicate to someone that they are important than remembering their name? Back then, I didn't hold any position of importance and there was no real reason to remember my name except I lived in his district and that was good enough for Ray.
My town, Tilton, is at the absolute southern end of Ray's district. I always loved seeing him hold up the entire state highway map, tuck one fold up from the bottom and proudly say "that's my district!" I was relieved every time redistricting was over and we were still with Ray. I might live in central New Hampshire, but my heart is in the North Country! It was comforting to know when I called Ray he would promptly return my calls, try to help when asked, or listen and discuss an issue, even when we disagreed. Not all other elected officials over the years were as reliable or courteous.
When my bride first ran for Belknap County Attorney, we transformed our old Volvo 122 into a campaign vehicle and I went to DMV to get an antique plate. When told my first choice "VOTE" was available, I said to the clerk "I can't believe Ray Burton doesn't have it." Ray couldn't believe it either, when we showed up at the first Old Home Day parade of campaign season he exclaimed, "Where did you ever get that plate?" I always felt a little bad about it, given his love of antique cars and always being three votes behind.
Ray enjoyed all forms of transportation. His airplane tour of the regional airports and his annual train ride were legendary. As the longstanding chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation, Ray also championed alternative transportation and the now flourishing network of pedestrian and recreational trails throughout our state.
Between the nearly seven terms my wife served as county attorney, and my work in mental health and serving on nonprofit boards, I came into increasing contact with Ray. He was everywhere, at public hearings and community or civic events in his district, and at the Statehouse. He was often accompanied by yet another wide-eyed and wet behind the ears intern — getting a real life education.
But it wasn't just the interns that learned from Ray, he taught me a lot and many others, too. These were valuable lessons about politics, people and life. Ray could work a room like no other, and he treated everyone equally from the perennial presidential candidates that flocked to our state to the plumber down the street. Ray defined what it means to be a public servant. If Ray had a bad day he never showed it. He was always upbeat and moving forward. Even when one of Ray's aides was involved in a scandal and other elected officials called on Ray to resign, he apologized but stayed the course. And while his constituents voted out many who had called for his resignation, we did re-elect Ray. He had done way too much good to be defined by one lapse of judgment which stemmed from believing in the good of people. Ray loved people and we loved him back.
So tomorrow I will again start my day with Ray, and as his comb slides through my thinning hair and over my brain, I'll make a conscious choice and aspire to be positive, to enjoy and respect everyone equally, to promote civil discourse and to be a servant leader.