By Erik Eisele
CONWAY — Appreciations and accolades continue to pour in for longtime North Country executive councilor Raymond Burton following the announcement last month he will not seek re-election in 2014 due to serious health issues.
Burton revealed in late October the cancer he began battling in February was back, prompting the end of his re-election bid. The news has been a shock to many across Burton’s district, which stretches from the Lakes Region to the Canadian border. For many it is hard to conceive of anyone else in the executive councilor seat, which Burton has filled since the 1970s.
The news prompted a wave of thanks for the 74-year-old political icon.
Officials at the New Hampshire Department of Safety announced on Friday a new fire training facility in Bethlehem will be named in Burton’s honor.
The new facility will be called the Raymond S. Burton North Country Fire and EMS Training Facility, according to a statement from the Department of Safety.
“Ray Burton has provided unmatched dedication and public service to the people of the North Country,” Gov. Maggie Hassan said in the statement. “It is fitting to name this new facility in Ray Burton’s honor as it seeks to train future generations of public servants to watch over and protect our communities.”
Construction began last week. The first phase, a four-story burn building for practicing firefighting techniques, is scheduled to be done in January. The rest of the project, which includes classroom space, a meeting room and a field office, has yet to be scheduled.
“We are so pleased to name our facility after Councilor Burton,” said Deborah Pendergast, director of N.H. Division of Fire Standards & Training and EMS, “a strong advocate for not only the needs of the citizens in his district, but of the needs of the emergency responders.”
The announcement came one week after Burton was recognized by both the Department of Transportation and by his alma mater, Plymouth State University, for his decades of work for the region and the state.
Plymouth State presented Burton with the Henry W. Blair Award for Distinguished Public Service, named for a Plymouth-area lawyer who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War before his election to U.S. Congress in 1866 and the U.S. Senate in 1878. The award is the university’s most esteemed award for public service.
“Ray Burton is there for everyone, advocating for what is fair and right, tireless in his commitment,” Plymouth State University president Sara Jayne Steen said in a statement. “He is a true native son of the Granite State.”
“It was humbling to know that I won such a prestigious recognition,” Burton, who graduated from Plymouth State in 1961, said.
The Blair Award was announced the same day Burton was the guest of honor at a dedication ceremony of a new scenic rest area along Route 302 in Twin Mountain. The new rest area, which includes a panoramic view of Mount Washington and the southern Presidential Range, as well as the Mount Washington Hotel, will bear Burton’s name, and a marker bears his likeness.
“Thank you for more than 40 years of steadfast dedication and unmatched public service to the people of the North Country, and to all of New Hampshire,” Gov. Hassan said in her remarks, delivered with a frail yet smiling Burton just a few feet away. “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.”