July 4, 1933 – August 10, 2023
Bob Burton died peacefully, alongside family in his Edmonds home near midnight on Thursday, August 10, 2023, after several weeks in hospice care due to ill health resulting from congestive heart failure and a stroke. A lover of ice cream, beautiful sunsets, spectacular music, his view of the Puget Sound and his children and grandchildren, he was able to die with all of these surrounding him.
Bob was a trumpet player, a sailor, a legendary music educator, a proud and playful father and grandfather, and a long-time Edmonds resident. And Bob was a funny guy who loved to tell funny stories. We know the highlights of Bob’s life because of how passionately (and frequently) he told stories about them. Bob was born in Seattle on the morning of July 4, 1933. His mother, Miriam Denison Burton, loved to tell us that his early difficulty with breathing was instantly relieved when he heard the sound of the trumpets marching by the hospital in the 4th of July parade. This clearly was the reason he became a trumpet player, she said. He spent his first years in Seattle’s Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods until his father Charles Lowell Burton (“Chuck”) decided to explore a business opportunity in Southern California. The family moved to an orange ranch in Whittier, California, where Bob and his older brother Paul attended school and his father started a construction business. When World War 2 began, however, they needed to make a change, and returned to the Seattle area where his father began a new job as a purchasing agent for Guy F. Atkinson Construction. Miriam (and Bob) often described the challenge of slowly driving the family car up from California with all the household possessions, a cat and dog, and two young boys during the period of gas rationing. It took over a week apparently, and she did it without her husband’s help as he needed to start work in Seattle. They landed at a small house rented sight unseen near Lake Ballinger in Edmonds where they then made a home. Miriam (“Denny”) soon became a primary school teacher and later school principal at Maple Park Elementary.
Bob attended Esperance Elementary and then Edmonds Jr. High and High School, where he ran hurdles on the track team and participated actively in the band as a lead trumpeter. He also loved sailing, swimming, diving and ice skating on Lake Ballinger and made many memories there with neighbors and friends. He loved to tell his grandchildren about where he walked in downtown Edmonds to get ice cream cones, what islands and stumps he dove off in Lake Ballinger, where he sat in the Edmonds auditorium during concerts and assemblies, and where he stood on 76th Street as a school patrol boy. He worked summers at Haines Fishing Wharf in Browns Bay near Meadowdale, and spent the rest of his life telling stories about the elevator used to raise and lower the boats, the line of cars eagerly waiting to get a boat, and the lessons he learned about jobs and hard work from his boss, ‘Cap’ Haines. He was active later in helping to create and name Haines Wharf Park in honor of this history.
After graduating from Edmonds High School in 1951, Bob attended Whitman College in Walla Walla where he joined the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and majored in Music. In summers, he worked on a fishing boat in Puget Sound and loved sharing stories about how purse seiners did their work, the voices of his crew mates, the Orca sightings, and the many beautiful bays and headlands he came to know. At Whitman he made life-long friends, directed his fraternity singing in a choral contest, developed his skills as a music educator, and met his wife-to-be Joan Marston, from Seattle. He enjoyed playing in dance bands in Walla Walla, being the showman on the band stand for college dances, and playing pranks on his fellow band mates and fraternity pals. He was thrilled to reconnect one more time with a few of these friends at a 65th college reunion last fall, and left many college staff and younger alumni giggling at his silly jokes and stories.
Bob graduated from Whitman in spring of 1956 and was subsequently drafted into the US Army. He married Joan in December of 1956, and was then sent off to a deployment in South Korea, where he was posted in the 8th Division infantry band as a trumpeter. His tour of duty ran to July of 1958. Though it was a challenging time for him, he often shared reflections (and frequent slide shows) about the many life-changing experiences he had in the mountains of Korea, grateful that he could “play trumpet, so he didn’t have to play guns.” He was very fond of the incredible friends he made then and always wanted us to understand both the laughs and the pain they shared. In fact, he spoke again of these friends fondly on the day before he died.
After returning from Korea, he was hired as a band and choral director at Cleveland High School in Seattle where he worked for 2 years. He and his wife Joan had settled in Edmonds, however, so he soon secured a new position in the Edmonds School District, first as a teacher at Mountlake Terrace Junior High, and then hired to be head of the music department at the brand new Meadowdale High School in 1963. At Meadowdale, he taught bands, music theory and choral music. As the program grew, he hired a new instructor to take on the bands and spent the rest of his years at Meadowdale as the director of a large and successful choral music program. He worked hard to recruit students to sing and make choir popular for all types of students – even those who never thought of themselves as musicians. His sense of humor and playful teaching style made his classrooms very appealing for teenagers, and his choirs grew in numbers. As a jazz trumpeter, he was particularly eager to create a jazz/swing vocal group and started a small ensemble called ‘The Impressions’ that continues on at MHS to this day. He wrote the school fight song, adapted the Whitman College Hymn to become the Meadowdale Alma Mater, wrote many vocal arrangements and took his choirs to perform in numerous festivals and competitions throughout the Northwest. His teaching colleagues at Meadowdale, some of his students, as well as other choral and band directors in the region became life-long friends.
As a warm, playful and compassionate teacher, he often became a key adult in the lives of many of his students. His children remember student visits to the home as a regular part of their family life. The impact of his teaching, and the significance of musical education to people’s lives, was particularly evident on the occasion of his 90th birthday when nearly 260 former students from his 26 years at Meadowdale gathered to celebrate and sing together at the Edmonds Waterfront Center in June of this year.
Bob retired from teaching in 1989, and subsequently began a second career as a driver/guide for Grayline Sightseeing Tours of Seattle. He absolutely loved showing the region off to visitors from other parts of the world, and telling jokes to a captive audience unable to get off his bus. He kept a journal of his tours and the various groups and individuals that he drove and took great joy in sharing anecdotes about the tourist responses to Mt. Rainier, or to Snoqualmie Falls, or the Space Needle. He also enjoyed playing a role in landmark Seattle events and activities by driving sports teams, political VIPs, and Microsoft “bigwigs” to and from their events. He never wanted to retire from this increasingly part-time job, but after turning 80, his family suggested he stop. For several years, he also wrote a history column for the Edmonds paper on ‘Days Gone By’ and was passionate about researching this history and sharing it with others. He just loved Edmonds, and never stopped wanting to try new scenic routes, showing friends, children and grandchildren the best viewpoints, and the low tides, watching dogs play at the dog park at the beach, and just watching the ferries come and go.
Bob was beloved by family, friends, students and service providers everywhere for his easygoing style and humble but unstinting humor. Long after he needed to, he still looked forward to trips to the bank, the post office or the grocery store, so he could tease and tell stories to clerks and tellers. He routinely looked for opportunities to make people smile, and put others at ease. After a divorce in 1985, he stubbornly lived alone in the family home overlooking Meadowdale beach and the Puget Sound where he kept music playing nearly 24 hours a day, and focused much energy on trimming the tops of trees that blocked his view. He loved visits from his children and their families, and did everything he could to attend and cheer loudly at recitals, concerts, frisbee tournaments, plays, dance performances and fundraisers until nearly the very end. Without a doubt, Bob lived a life dedicated to laughter, love of friends, family, beautiful music, the view of the Puget Sound, and his home. And, if you asked him, he would say he was most proud of his knowledge of local history, of climbing Mt. Rainier, of his great pranks with old friends, his children and grandchildren, and his goofy homemade household gadgets.
Bob is survived by older brother Paul Denison Burton of Lake Forest Park, his former wife Joan Burton of Seattle, his daughter Barbara Burton (and husband Jim Wehmeyer), his son Richard Burton (and wife Lynne Dodson), his daughter Carol Burton (and wife Robin McCain), his granddaughter Cecilia Miriam Burton-Wehmeyer, and his grandson Henry Charles Burton-Wehmeyer, all located in Seattle. He also has a step-granddaughter Kia Sanger, a step-grandson Joey Sanger and two new step great-granddaughters, Willow-Rain DeKlerk Sanger of Chang Mai Thailand, and Helena Lluvia Rodriguez Sanger of Puebla, Mexico as well as numerous nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews throughout the Mid/West and Northwest.
Although a memorial has not yet been scheduled, the family invites donations in his name to the Meadowdale High School Music Department via the MHS booster venmo site: @MHS-Mambo, or at the website https://mambo-213932.square.site/