For 37 years of his more than half-century of writing, Bill Burton did what I do now - except he did it better.
That's why on April 23, the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association will induct the former Evening Sun outdoors editor into its Hall of Fame, an elite club of slightly more than 50 members that includes Henry Louis Mencken, Sam Lacy, Katharine Graham and Herb Block.
At 82, Burton still writes a column for the Bay Weekly in Annapolis. Publisher and editor Sandra Martin nominated him "many, many, many times, and they never took him," she says, tongue in cheek.
Truth be told, Burton's best writing came after he retired from The Evening Sun and reported for duty at Martin's shop weeks later. His newfound freedom beyond the grind of daily journalism meant no topic was beyond his reach.
"He burns with curiosity about so many things ... and he writes about them in such a wonderful way that he makes readers care about them, too," Martin says. "He's out there loving life."
Burton has kept writing - more than 600 columns - through injuries suffered in a car accident, a nasty turn that resulted in a toe amputation and, now, cancer. In perhaps his toughest assignment, he has been a patient and wise counsel to me.
"He's sweet and sensitive and sentimental," Martin continues, breaking into laughter. "Oh, God, he's going to hate this."
And, no doubt, the fuss here, too.
The Hall of Fame title will look nice next to his other fancy honorific, "Admiral of the Chesapeake," bestowed on him by Gov. J. Millard Tawes. Pretty good for an old Navy Seabee.
John Griffin, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, calls Burton "unquestionably the dean of Maryland outdoors reporters" whose "work as a writer, teacher and broadcaster has inspired generations to take advantage of the abundant recreational opportunities our area offers."
"For more than half a century, Bill Burton has covered outdoor life in and around the Chesapeake Bay. He has hunted and fished with presidents, governors and the kid down the street," Griffin says. "There are many Maryland anglers that would not venture out onto the bay without first checking Burton's column to see where the fish were biting."
Hooked on fishing
Here's a project that would be near and dear to Admiral Burton, an enthusiastic booster of young anglers.
The Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited is looking for volunteers to act as guides on April 18 for kids at "City Catch" at Leakin Park. The event, a partnership with the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Each of the 125 kids will be lent fishing gear, and volunteers will help assemble the tackle, tie on a hook and sinker, bait the hook and fish for trout. The kids will will be given a booklet containing simple techniques for catching fish and an introduction to sportsmanlike conduct and environmental stewardship. Lunch will be provided.
If you can spare a few hours, call Richard Schad at 410-418-9646 or at http://rsschad%40verizon.net. More information is at mdtu.org.
The lousy economy is hammering away at another institution: the "Maryland Fishing Challenge featuring Diamond Jim."
Boater's World, one of the major sponsors of the summerlong event, began taking on water last month, when its parent company announced reorganization under Chapter 11. Then last week, Ritz Camera Centers sold the marine store's assets at auction. Boater's World provided the $25,000 cash prize awarded to the angler catching a rockfish wearing a special tag.
"We're doing everything in our power to keep it alive at some level," says Darlene Pisani, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources. "We have until June to make a determination."
The Challenge was coaxed back to life after a 40-year absence by DNR as a way to entice more people to fish. After a few bumps in the road - mostly harmless blips that resulted in flop sweat - the event was a nice summertime diversion. I, for one, would be sorry to see it go.