CANTON — The lights dimmed and the soft lighting of candles in the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chambers Monday lit the faces of many as part of an annual December tradition, where legislators memorialize a former legislator who has died in the past year.
A seating area inside the entrance way to the chambers was reserved for the family of retired 1st Sgt. Donald F. Burns, who died at the age of 89 on April 28.
Mr. Burns was elected to the Board of Legislators as a representative for what was District 17 in Ogdensburg and served from 1982 through 1986.
His wife of 69 years, Barbara J. Burns, sat in the front row surrounded by her family as Legislator James E. Reagen, R-Ogdensburg, offered the resolution memorializing Mr. Burns. When asked for a second on the motion, all legislative arms rose.
“This man was recognized as a leader in his community ...,” Mr. Reagen read. “... (A)nd he honorably and diligently discharged the trust so reposed to him and he has now departed, leaving a record which we remember and which today we seek to commemorate.”
The legislators all concurred, through the resolution, that Mr. Burns had qualities of service and devotion to service that were worth treasuring.
“We rejoice in the work he accomplished and sorrow that he is no longer with us,” Mr. Reagen read. “Donald Burns was a patriot, a public servant and a very important part of the Ogdensburg community,” Mr. Reagen said. “I would like to thank the Burns family for sharing him with our community and the people of St. Lawrence County. I can honestly say he made a difference during his life and I’m very proud to say that I knew him and could call him my friend.”
The legislators then all presented members of the Burns family each with a red flower and expressed condolences and thanks.
Mrs. Burns said it was a wonderful experience to see her husband remembered in such a way.
“He was one of the greatest,” she said after the ceremony, with a chuckle. “I thought it was wonderful that they did that because I used to come here a lot when my husband was here. He was a busy guy. It was very nice to see a lot of the men I had known from being up here.”
“I think it’s nice and I think mom’s happy that they did this,” Mr. Burns’s son, Gus T. Burns said. “I think the whole family is pretty happy that they did this. It’s good to put politics aside and we had everybody here to celebrate so we’re really happy and pleased they did it.”
While the resolution will be included into the county’s records as a permanent memorial to the time he spent on the board, a framed copy was handed to Mrs. Burns by Board Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, who said to her I’ve known Don for a great number of years. He was a great guy he’ll be missed.”
Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena, said he had the good fortune of serving on the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee with Mr. Burns, where Mr. Burns also served as chairman.
“He served the people with every ounce of his fabric,” Mr. Arquiett said. “He breathed politics, he instilled it into his children and grand children and they are all very fine and respected people in their community and he just did a great job bringing these people up and the full commitment to the people he represented was very admirable.”
Larry D. Denesha, R-DeKalb Junction, said he first learned of the ceremony when his father, Elmer I. Denesha, was memorialized in December 2014.
Elmer Denesha served on what was the county’s board of supervisors for 18 years, from 1966 to 1981, representing the town of DeKalb.
Mr. Denesha said his father’s memorial ceremony came a month after he was first elected to office and just remembered how proud his father would have been. He added that while he didn’t know Mr. Burns as a legislator, the two struck up a friendship while working together at Alcoa.
“It’s a really nice ceremony,” Mr. Denesha said. “When you got someone on the board of legislators or the (former) board of supervisors. It takes a lot of time, so the family has a commitment as well so I think by having this it shows our gratitude for the person who served also to the family for allowing them to serve.”