This isn’t an obituary, but the words of a son at the father of a friend of a friend’s funeral.

I’m Timothy Burton, Chuck Burton’s son. I’m one of 5 boys and 3 girls who were blessed enough to call Chuck Burton our father.

If I were to sum up my father’s life, I’d say it was about building and teaching and including others in his journey.  Last year on the celebration of his 90th birthday, he said this about his life: “I’ve worked hard and stayed the course. My life has been about quality and all of you here today have contributed to making a better me.”

Let me share of few of our memories of the lasting impact he had on us:

My father was positive throughout his life. As an officer on a ship in the South Pacific during WWII, he had seen the worst. He survived two typhoons and witnessed the aftermath of Hiroshima – but he never let those experiences keep him down. Instead, he would say to us: “You live in a free country, you have a roof over your head, food on the table and parents who love you. Now go out and do something with your life.“

My father was self-made and self-reliant. From the way he tackled every home project, took care of our cars, did our taxes, Chuck engaged in the world as a man who would be its master.

My father helped us – and many of his clients – make tough decisions. With his trusty yellow pad, he was famous for splitting the page in two and writing down the pros and cons of every situation.  

My father was a well-respected business man who was known for being tough but fair. He built a business empire from nothing. At his own wedding, a chance encounter led to the beginning of his career in insurance. He insured the City of Houston and Marriott Hotels and over the years built a prosperous career that afforded us a very comfortable life.  He was known as “Chuck Burton, Your Friendly Insurance Man” to many people who knew him.

My father always said that people who lived their lives in black and white were a whole lot more miserable than those who learned to live in grey. Give a little, get a little.  Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. A true believer in karma and balance. But he was also human and when someone hurt us and eventually got their due, he was right there rooting for us.

He was always fair and that’s not easy with 8 kids. Whether it was the rotating list of who got the front seat of the car, who went on the most recent “alone time” trip with him and Mom, he knew how to parse out favors in challenging situations. He was a real diplomat.

My father taught us how to be responsible and frugal and never to put our own families in jeopardy. He was our personal financial advisor. After he retired, he had business cards printed up that read “Chuck Burton – Banker and Diplomat.”

My father had a quiet humility about him that served our family well through the years. He really was a very kind man with a gentle soul. Everyone one of us collapsed into my father’s arms at some point in our lives because he knew how to comfort, without any agenda, when we hit bumps in life.

But my father was a very funny man and he always chose humor first. He loved telling jokes and for us there wasn’t anything more precious than the anticipation of the punch line- which he dragged out until we were hurting.  He wasn’t above slapstick humor either- like the time he paraded around the house wearing Mom’s wig during her cancer treatment.

My father loved my mother unwaveringly and that wasn’t always easy. He stuck with her through four bouts of cancer and although age and illness had ravaged her he never wanted to be anywhere except by her side.  He hid love notes in her luggage when she was away and wrote countless poems professing his love and admiration for her. He called Mom his partner and he meant it.

They had a genuine love and respect for each other that was palpable. Above all, my father always reminded us that he was nothing without his wife and that it was Mary Esther that had molded him into the man he was.

My father loved the good things in life like golf, tennis, fishing, fast cars, the outdoors, gardening and building stuff. He liked Neil Diamond blaring on the radio, dancing in the living room scantily clad. He liked his bourbon strong. He loved poetry and he wrote each of us poems marking the transitions in our lives. He cherished breakfast out with Laurie, building and fixing things with me, replanting the bamboo with Tom, fishing on the lake with Chris, crackers and milk at midnight in the kitchen with Rosie, watching tennis with Theresa, working professionally alongside Clifford and sitting on the swing with Doug and watching the birds.

Above all, my father loved being a Dad. He didn’t know his own father, who died when he was 2 years old. But his grandfather took him and his sister in and I think he was greatly influenced by that kindness. When we were kids he hid candy on the rim of his fedora hat, drove us to the pool on a tractor and cooked us steak and eggs for breakfast before he left on a work trip. He taught us how to shake hands firmly and look people in the eye, apply for jobs, ride a bike, swim, drive, save money, pour a good cocktail and be good siblings. He nurtured each of us as we built our own families. Above all, my father always told us “I will love you no matter what.” Based on the number of cars we wrecked, fires we started and other youthful indiscretions, loving us wasn’t always easy but we all believed it, every word, always.

I think Dad hit all the high marks in life – husband, son, brother, father, grandfather, great grandfather, business leader and colleague, church leader, friend and confidant. If he were here he’d say “I’ve lived a life I’ve been happy to share – I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Dad, we are all here with your sister Betty, we are all fine, we have money in our pockets, our headlights are clean and we know the way, thanks to you.

Advertisements