Raymond S. Burton, a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council and a Grafton County Commissioner, has long been a symbol of public service in the state. And now, his alma mater, Plymouth State University, whose own motto is Ut Prosim (“That I May Serve”), has honored Burton with its Henry W. Blair Award for Distinguished Public Service.
Plymouth State University President Sara Jayne Steen presented the award to Burton this week.
“Ray Burton is there for everyone, advocating for what is fair and right, tireless in his commitment,” Steen said. “At his core, Ray values New Hampshire and, by his presence, he makes it a better place. He is a true native son of the Granite State, and Plymouth State University is proud to honor him.”
“I was honored to receive the Henry Blair Award from President Sara Jayne Steen,” Burton says. “It was humbling to know that I won such a prestigious recognition. I have always been proud to be a member of the Class of 1962, and for the last 51 years have done my best to promote this great institution.”
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan calls Burton “one of the most dedicated and caring public servants the state of New Hampshire has ever known.”
“There is no one who is more worthy of receiving the prestigious Henry W. Blair Award for Distinguished Public Service,” Hassan said. “For more than 40 years, his unyielding commitment to the communities and people of the North Country has strengthened the entire state of New Hampshire. I congratulate Councilor Burton for this well-deserved honor and thank him for his unmatched public service. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to work with and serve alongside him.”
Mike Cryans, chair of the Grafton County Commission, also shared his congratulations. “We, the Grafton County family of 90,000 residents, are thrilled for Ray, our long-time public servant, for receiving the Blair Award. Plymouth State University has awarded this honor only two other times, so we know how special this tribute is to Ray. We are so happy and proud for him,” Cryans said.
Burton is well known for his long established practice with every newly-appointed state commissioner and department head to take them on a personally-guided tour of the North Country. He insists that every state official be familiar with the places, people, and concerns of New Hampshire citizens who live and work “north of Concord.” As Executive Councilor for District I, Burton represents 102 cities and towns in seven counties comprising about 75 percent of the state’s land mass. Nevertheless, his loyal constituents often boast that if more than three people are holding a meeting in any part of the district, Ray Burton will be there.
Burton, a 1962 graduate of what was then Plymouth Teachers College, began his career as a school teacher and principal. He later became an adjunct faculty member in Plymouth State’s Department of Social Sciences. After becoming a member of the Executive Council in 1977, he established an internship program for New Hampshire College students to learn more about the workings of state government. Many of Burton’s former interns are now in public service.
“Councilor Burton has had one of the most significant effects on my professional life,” said Trevor Chandler, a Plymouth State graduate and a former intern with Burton. Now a senior field organizer with the Human Rights Campaign, Chandler recalls Burton’s attention to constituent needs. “He always said he campaigns as if he is two votes behind.”
Stefanie Webb also remembers the “two votes behind” refrain. The Plymouth State graduate remembers her “six months working out of the state house and out of Ray’s car” as she helped with constituent services.
Today, Webb remains active in New Hampshire politics.
“Councilor Burton is the reason I am so involved in politics. He groomed a lot of people who wanted to do politics the right way, the same way he does,” Webb added.
Former state senator and long-time friend Mark Hounsell recently cited a well-known observation of Daniel Webster to describe the essence of Ray Burton, “What a man does for others, not what they do for him, gives him immortality.”
Burton, a Bath native, still lives in his family’s home. He is a political institution in the Granite State, having served as the Sergeant of Arms of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and the State Senate before his first election to the Executive Council in 1977.
The Henry W. Blair Award is named for a former New Hampshire representative and senator. Blair, a Plymouth-area lawyer, served as a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War before his election to Congress in 1866. Elected to the U.S. Senate in 1878, Blair served on the Committee on Education and Labor where he was a strong advocate for reforms ranging from women’s suffrage to improving the nation’s system of public education.
“Henry W. Blair saw the potential and beauty of the people of Plymouth and New Hampshire,” President Steen added. “In a spirit reminiscent of Henry Blair, Ray Burton has shaped a life around bettering a place that he has loved.”