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In Bretton Woods, N.H. political leaders pay tribute to ailing Ray Burton

  • Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Nov. 1, 2013, with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

    Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Nov. 1, 2013, with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)

  • Riding with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves to supporters Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 in Bretton Woods, N.H., as he arrives for a an opening ceremony at a scenic overlook dedicated to him. Burton, who has been a staunch advocate for the state's north country for four decades, announced last week he will not seek re-election because his kidney cancer has returned. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Riding with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves to supporters Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 in Bretton Woods, N.H., as he arrives for a an opening ceremony at a scenic overlook dedicated to him. Burton, who has been a staunch advocate for the state's north country for four decades, announced last week he will not seek re-election because his kidney cancer has returned. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • A granite stone honoring Executive Councilor Ray Burton is seen Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, in Bretton Woods, N.H. Burton attended the dedication of a scenic overlook in his honor. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    A granite stone honoring Executive Councilor Ray Burton is seen Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, in Bretton Woods, N.H. Burton attended the dedication of a scenic overlook in his honor. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Friday afternoon, November 1, 2013 with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves goodbye following a ceremony to honor his career of public service on Nov. 1, 2013, with a presentation of the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook. Governor Maggie Hassan was joined by New Hampshire officials who spoke of their connection to Burton. (Concord Monitor - John Tully)
  • Riding with New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Executive Councilor Ray Burton waves to supporters Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 in Bretton Woods, N.H., as he arrives for a an opening ceremony at a scenic overlook dedicated to him. Burton, who has been a staunch advocate for the state's north country for four decades, announced last week he will not seek re-election because his kidney cancer has returned. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • A granite stone honoring Executive Councilor Ray Burton is seen Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, in Bretton Woods, N.H. Burton attended the dedication of a scenic overlook in his honor. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Bretton Woods, n.h. — For 35 years, Ray Burton has driven down to Concord, taken his seat at the Executive Council table and argued for the people and interests of northern New Hampshire.

Friday, Concord came to him.

A bipartisan throng of friends and supporters, current and former council members, state lawmakers, governors and members of Congress drove to Bretton Woods to honor the ailing Burton, who is battling cancer and announced last weekend he wouldn’t seek a 19th term on the Executive Council in 2014.

“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,” said Gov. Maggie Hassan. “Thank you for touching our lives and strengthening our state. We will be forever grateful.”

At a special meeting in the historic Mount Washington Hotel, the Executive Council voted to accept a portrait of Burton, “The Public Servant,” by painter Craig Pursley, which will eventually hang in the council’s second-floor office at the State House.

Then, Burton rode with Hassan in an antique yellow Oldsmobile convertible, leading a caravan of classic cars to the dedication of a new scenic overlook on U.S. Route 302, where a marker honoring Burton was unveiled.

The signs waved by a crowd of well-wishers summed up the day: “Burton for Certain” — “Thank You, Ray!”

Burton, a Bath Republican, didn’t miss the opportunity to do a little politicking, either, shaking hands from his wheelchair and pointing out that the new Mount Washington Scenic Overlook is the product of a public-private partnership that leveraged federal money.

“I should note that as we were riding down here, Ray lobbied me for some appointments,” Hassan announced to laughter.

Burton has also served for more than two decades as a Grafton County commissioner, and his colleagues in North Haverhill last week surprised him with the dedication of a new park at the site of the old county jail, which was recently demolished.

County Commissioner Michael Cryans said 20 of Burton’s friends and more than 30 county employees surprised Burton at the Oct. 22 dedication. The Hanover Democrat said the view of farmland in the Connecticut River Valley is “amazing now that the old jail is gone.

“It was kind of nice to do it then and look at the tears come down his face,” said Cryans, noting that officials plan to add granite benches and trees in the spring to the new “Ray Burton Park” in North Haverhill.

Cryans, who on Friday was part of a caravan of Grafton County supporters who rode up to Bretton Woods with Burton, said Burton’s work for Grafton County was often overlooked.

“Everyone talks about the Executive Council, but county government is very important to him,” Cryans said. “He called it ‘county family.’ ”

Burton, 74, was first elected to the five-member Executive Council in 1976. He lost his seat in 1978, regained it in 1980 and has been re-elected every two years since.

The praise for Burton yesterday, at both the reception and the council meeting, was unstinting: as a friend and mentor, as a tireless public official dedicated to constituent service, as the North Country’s biggest booster.

“Ray absolutely reflects what public service is all about. Ray understands so well that all elected officials report to the people, rather than the other way around. And because of Ray and all that you have done, we can say categorically that the North Country and the state of New Hampshire are so much better off,” said former governor John Lynch.

“You have taught every single person in this room the very best ideals of extraordinary public service. And I daresay that no one has or will impact or touch the North Country like you have,” said U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a former attorney general.

“It is fitting that at this, one of the most beautiful scenic vistas in New Hampshire, we will have a marker, Ray, to recognize every day the difference that you have made for the North Country and New Hampshire,” said former governor and current U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “We are so grateful. Thank you.”

As for Burton, he said it’s all been worth it.

“I’m very, very happy with what I’ve done with my public life. I regret no vote that I’ve had — and every two years, a councilor casts about an average of 5,000 different votes,” Burton told the crowd.

He added, to a standing ovation, “The bottom line is, it’s for public service to the people of New Hampshire.”