Volume XVII, Issue 18 # April 30 - May 6, 2009

Letter From the Editor

Bill Burton’s Very Good Week

With one exception

I’d like to be able to say that Bill Burton has had a very good week.

First, on April 23, the Old Man of Chesapeake Bay joined the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association Hall of Fame as its 50th member, in the company of three other notable newsmen, together raising the number of that august fellowship to 53.

Applause broke out as Burton rose from his wheelchair and walked a couple of yards to accept the honor.

“When you get at the end of the trail,” he said, “an award like this makes it all worthwhile.”

Burton is lukewarm to most honors. He’s had so many that he can take them or leave them.

Not this. This was the capstone of 62 years labor at work he loved.

Nothing, he said, “is as great, as much fun, as satisfying as creating a great story. Nothing is better than the knowledge that you were there when journalism was the greatest damn thing in the world and [you] used a pencil to take notes, copy paper was free and you could have a 10-cent beer without having to put some kind of disclaimer on it.

“I thank you all,” he said, “because we’re all part of it.”

Thirty admirers — family, friends, colleagues, editors and outdoorsmen from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Saltwater Sport Fishermen’s Association and Coastal Conservation Association — listened as Natural Resources Secretary John Griffin added his department’s tribute, calling Burton “a man for all seasons.”

Then Griffin poured on another tribute, this one from Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, on “behalf of the … people of Maryland join[ed] together in expressing admiration and great respect for your contributions.”

Assailed by cancer, Burton is frailer than the last time you saw him. Chemotherapy has pruned the beard he’s cultivated for 42 years.

But he is the man he always was: So charged with energy, so gifted with will and wit, so vital in appreciation of life that people are drawn to him as if he were the sun.

Another 60 friends, fishing people this time, testified again to that irresistible attraction on the following night, April 24.

For 52 years, Burton has hosted the Waters and Woods Ball at Harrison’s Chesapeake House in Tilghman Island on April’s last weekend. Guests don’t dance at this ball. They have a ball, eating, drinking, swapping fish stories and, on Saturday, charter fishing in the Chesapeake Bay trophy rockfish season.

At Friday night’s welcome dinner, Sen. and fisherwoman Barbara Mikulski took charge of the public telling of tall tales.

“It’s not about the fish,” the diminutive powerhouse said. “It’s about what goes into the fishing: the camaraderie, the friendship, the joy, enjoying God’s good creation … and along the way doing a couple little shooters. I like every part of this.”

What we didn’t know, hidden as Burton played host, was that the host of diseases invading his 82-year-old body was planning another kind of party.

As usual, Saturday’s fishing began at 7am, after 6am breakfast. By 10am, Burton’s charter boat, captained by Buddy Harrison, had returned to port to meet the ambulance that carried the Old Man of the Bay to the hospital in Easton. There he’s recovering from a heart attack, among other ailments.

But recovering he is, telling me: “I’m not ready to take that bus ride yet.”

       Sandra Olivetti Martin
     editor and publisher