Volume XVII, Issue 35 # August 27 - September 2, 2009

Enough Said? Not Quite

Bill Burton’s lessons from the animals

by Alan Doelp

Bill always said he wanted his last column to run on the same day as his obituary. It didn’t quite work out that way, but he came close. Bill wrote his farewell column only a few weeks ago, but he never intended that to be the end. He was working on an article for Bay Weekly when he died.

I know what the article was to be about, and today I’m going to hijack it and ghostwrite it for him, so that in a sense, Bill’s last column will be part of this farewell tribute.

The assignment was to write what he had learned from the animal kingdom. Now I know that Bill would have chosen a cat for his metaphor, and he would have come up with some cat-based rules to live by.

But I would have argued with him — as I so often did — that he was picking the wrong metaphor. And since I’m the ghostwriter today, I’m going to choose the metaphor, and list the five things, rules to live by, that Bill must have learned from man’s best friend, the dog.

Rule 1: Never pass up a fireplug

Anyone who’s ever traveled with Bill knows what I’m talking about. Bill knew the location of every fireplug, pit stop and porta-potty between here and Vermont, and he never missed a one. And in between, sometimes he improvised. If you ever saw Bill on the side of the road, leaning against a car door with a camera in one hand — well, he wasn’t taking pictures.

Fireplugs are also a good analogy for marking territory, something Bill did to excess. His weapon of choice was the magic marker. He wrote his name and phone number on everything he owned, and a few things he didn’t. On the really valuable stuff he wrote reward. [Son] Joel grew up thinking reward was a brand name. Bill had enormous amounts of stuff, and it’s all marked. He was truly one of the great labelers of our time.

Rule 2: Never pass up food

Bill’s appetite was legendary. After 70 years of pipe smoking you have to wonder how he had any taste buds left, but I’ve never seen a man enjoy food more than Bill, and he enjoyed it all, whether it was a crabcake from Harrison’s or a milkshake from McDonald’s, and everything in between. Even in the last few weeks, when the cancer had pretty much wrecked his taste buds, there were still a few foods he enjoyed, and occasionally gobbled, right up to the end.

Rule 3: When in doubt, bark

Bill was pretty much all bark and no bite, but boy could he bark. If Bill hasn’t made disparaging remarks about you, you’re probably not a very close friend. He was the master of the friendly insult. Let it stand that when the occasion called for it, he could bark.

Rule 4: Be lavish with love

I really like the dogs-versus-cats analogy here. Cats may like you, but you always feel like you’re on probation. Dogs are unconditional, and that’s the way Bill was. If he liked you, he loved you. No half measures. He only had best friends. There weren’t many conversations that didn’t end with him saying, I love you, sweetheart. And he meant it.

And finally, Rule 5: Be loyal

If there was a single defining characteristic of Bill Burton, it was loyalty. He was devoted to his family, to his friends, to his readers, to the Chesapeake Bay, to the United States of America. It was unconditional. No hesitation, no second thoughts.

No man ever had a stronger sense of duty, of patriotism, of honor, of loyalty. He was the solid anchor for three generations of fishermen and five generations of family, and there is no replacing him. As we go on with our lives, and we think about Bill and want to honor his memory, it’s easy: Just enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, enjoy the outdoors and take good care of them.

To quote our old friend, “Enough said.”