Honoring Councilor Ray Burton
Strafford Regional Planning Commission would like to express their appreciation for the life and work of the late Councilor Ray Burton. To do so, SRPC though it fitting to share the eulogy honoring Councilor Burton, written by Steve Pesci, Director of Special projects for the Campus Planning Office at the University of New Hampshire.
To the UNH-Durham Community and Strafford Region:
November 12, 2013
In case you had not heard, Ray Burton passed away this morning.
I am sure that there will be many statewide eulogies, reflections and accolades for Councilor Burton but I wanted to take a moment to personalize it to UNH and our transportation efforts over the past twelve years.
UNH owes Ray a debt of thanks for his chairmanship of the TE and CMAQ Committees (since the program inceptions in the early 90s!). During that time, Ray was always one to support UNH-Durham’s transportation efforts. When we presented good projects he always made sure they got a fair hearing. He was proud of UNH as an institution and saw the value of UNH receiving funds to implement quality projects for the Durham community – and to demonstrate best practices at the state’s flagship institution campus. I can recall several instances in which Ray went out of his way at a meeting to dissuade a critic regarding UNH proposals. There is not one CMAQ or TE project which has come to Durham which Ray did not take a personal interest in. Sometimes it was gentle cajoling to include more trees; sometimes encouragement to offer assistance to Plymouth State College; sometimes encouragement aimed at other members of the Committees and communities to follow our lead instead of begrudging our success; sometimes it was simply to let others in the room (including DOT staff) know he supported UNH.
Ray was a lifelong supporter of transportation issues (which I fondly recall him pronouncing in that NH accent as /transpuhtation/. He was particularly interested in rail – both freight and passenger issues. His annual scenic tourist rail tours and events are legendary. The Amtrak Downeaster’s three successful stations in NH – and the service start at three completed NH platforms – during an era which lacked NHDOT top leadership support for rail was due in no small part to his influence – and his importance on the Executive Council which approves agency appointments in NH. Ray understood and wielded the unique authority of the Council unlike many of his peers. He was both the Senior Councilor and senior counselor – a conscience of the Council.
My personal observation of Ray was that he chaired even the most boring of meetings with a personable nature and a sense of openness. He balanced the important work of Committees with the important personal respect and connections that he groomed over decades. He always represented the North Country fearlessly – and the State unapologetically. He was political but not partisan. Those who earned Ray’s respect (regardless of party or affiliation) were always treated fairly – and always given a fair hearing – frequently called on by first name – even in the most contentious of meetings. I became accustomed to him calling me by first name at hearings and quickly became well aware that when he called you by last name you were suggesting something that he did not fully buy into. Having known him and having attended Executive Council meetings (however infrequently) for the past 20+ years I can’t imagine the institution without him. I can confidently say that UNH, Durham and the Seacoast communities we connect would not have the transportation system we have without his ongoing support – and over $10 million of CMAQ/TE funds that were approved by the Committees he chaired over the past two decades.
He was referred to by a colleague this morning as ‘an icon’. Agreed..but icons are rarely as personable , as accessible or as committed to public service as he was
Give him a quick thought (and thanks!) next time you walk down Main Street, ride a Wildcat bus or wait for a train/enjoy a meal at the Dairy Bar/Train Station.
Stephen T. Pesci
UNH Campus Planning