Volume XVII, Issue 33 # August 13 - August 19, 2009

from the Editor

Bill Burton’s Last Peach

Bill Burton’s life was full of peaches. Also fruit cakes, rhubarb pies and bread puddings.

“I’ve lived a wonderful life,” Burton told me, back on December 22, on a day he felt good enough to sample all three kinds of sandwiches on Giolitti’s lunch platter, plus both pasta and tomato-mozzarella salad.

Food was only the appetizer of that day’s event. Burton, who had just turned 82 on December 15, had come to Bay Weekly with wife Lois and granddaughter Grumpy (Mackenzie Noelle Boughey) to assess his life and advise his editor and many readers on how to live lives as fulfilling as his.

After Burton’s death, his words would be played, and an album of pictures shown, as Bay Weekly’s online element of our tribute to the Old Man of the Bay. (Hear and see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTxOldtb4AE.)

On a full stomach, Burton talked for a half hour, answering life’s big questions, which I’d reduced to three.

How do you look at your life? Have you realized your childhood dreams — or surpassed them?

What shall we do to live as well as you?

Tom Tearman, a world-quality pro, taped the interview (and later cut it to four powerful minutes.)

Burton would be talking for posterity. He held few illusions about his illness and its outcome. But he was in no hurry to “take that bus,” he told me, noting that he’d outlived other editors who’d contemplated writing his obituary.

The secrets Burton told us weren’t so secret. Know him even a little bit, and you’d be in on them. Arms wide open, he rushed out to meet life. He didn’t want to miss a thing.

“It isn’t easy to say you want to quit all this,” he told me.

Part of his enormous appetite for life was his love of food.

In the months between the taping of that interview and your hearing it, we enjoyed perhaps a half dozen visits — always over food. During Annapolis Restaurant Week in February, husband Bill Lambrecht and I took Burton out to dinner at Morton’s. He ate steak, spinach, asparagus, potatoes and dessert.

In April, when Burton was inducted into the Maryland, Delaware, D.C. Press Association’s Hall of Fame, the honor of the thing wasn’t enough to keep him from eating dinner.

The very next night came his 52nd annual fishing trip, the Woods and Water Ball at Harrison’s Chesapeake House on Tilghman Island. Burton ate abundantly, although the next day, his fishing was cut short for an emergency trip to the hospital.

In May, he returned to Bay Weekly to eat reader Juanita Foust’s extraordinary rhubarb pie. He ate two slices … after a Baja Fresh burrito.

Late that month, I rode along on his trip with Maryland Department of Natural Resources to release the first Diamond Jim, the rockfish with the (then) $10,000-bounty. Smokey Joe’s served a huge breakfast, and each boat packed picnic lunches. Bill ate at least two pieces of fried chicken and probably a sub.

By last week, cancer was gnawing at Bill’s body, swallowing his vitality. He was on morphine, and he was sleeping much of the time.

I’d not have shared a last supper with him had it not been for Bay Gardener Frank Gouin, who reminded me that if Burton couldn’t come to peaches, peaches could come to Burton.

On Friday, I drove a basket of the Bay Gardener’s peaches to Bill’s beloved home on Stoney Creek. Gouin sent jumbos; each peach was as big as a grapefruit.

As we visited, daughter Heather, who is allergic to peach fuzz, found a ripe one. I peeled off its down with a paring knife. It was sweet, aromatic and as gold as the setting sun showing us its parting colors. I cut the crescents narrow, but from tip to tip each one was still huge.

“I need a fork,” Bill said. And, sitting in his recliner, stabbing slice by slice, he ate the whole thing.

Burton died in his family’s embrace in the early hours of Monday, August 10.

As he said (and you’ll hear), “What better life could you have?”

       Sandra Olivetti Martin

     editor and publisher