Volume 14, Issue 34 ~ August 24 - August 30, 2006


Bill Burton Celebrates a Half Century on the Bay

For spinning a fish story (or catching a fish), you couldn’t find a better man than Bill Burton. He’s traded in both for seven decades.

In all those years, he’s missed only one deadline — which is a story best told by Burton:

I’d had to go to an early Saturday wedding in Crisfield. I had a column due for The Sun, so I drove with my notes. I figured I would write it about 2pm.

Back then, you could get your Sunday column in as late as six or seven Saturday night. But there was a champagne breakfast, and the champagne tasted good. I drank a lot in my day, but never champagne, and the next thing I knew, I was out. I sat down for a few minutes and woke up. It was eight in the evening, and I’d missed my deadline.

For 50 years, Burton’s covered Chesapeake Country — so thoroughly that he was named an Admiral of the Chesapeake by Gov. J. Millard Tawes. He ranks as Maryland’s premier outdoorsman — for his work in newspapers, with magazines, television and radio — and its dean of outdoors reporting. Because of his trademark style — the salty, old sportsman, peppering his factual reports with yarns, opinion and sound environmental sense — his readers feel they know him.

“Bill Burton was as popular as Johnny Unitas,” we’ve been told by sports and outdoors fans who followed both men in the day.

Over the 14 years he’s been writing for Bay Weekly, Burton’s been getting saltier, because of the decline of the Bay he’s known so intimately.

“Making readers aware has become something of a mission of late,” he says. “Me screaming alone doesn’t help, but if a bunch of people howl, we might really get some progress.”

Writing a full-length feature this 50th anniversary week in place of his usual column, Burton relates how the first President George Bush advised him to keep working after his retirement from the Evening Sun 14 years ago to stay sharp. Burton has kept sharp by catching ideas for his columns in Bay Weekly and other papers. He’s as good at catching ideas as he is catching fish — which, by the way, he’s returned to now that he’s mended from the broken hip of April 25.

Once he’s caught his idea, Burton goes fishing for you.

Burton baits his hook with a good quote, hunted up from one of the eight dictionaries of quotations, memory and his file of hundreds. Sometimes it takes almost as long for him to find the appropriate quote as to write the piece that follows it.

Then all he has to do is set the bait, and you’re hooked.

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