By JOHN T. WARD
John F. Burton, a longtime chronicler of Red Bank-area people, government and more, died Sunday.
The senior reporter for the weekly Two River Times had battled illness for the past three years.
A Facebook post by activist Ben Forest that reported Burton’s passing prompted an outpouring of tributes.
Burton “was that rare breed of journalist, who was committed to and remained in a community,” wrote former Asbury Park Press reporter Larry Higgs. “It’s not an easy task to do that. John did it with grace, humor and intelligence. We are all richer for knowing him.”
Forest described Burton as “a warrior for facts and truth” who was “respected by everyone in the political arena.” In a comment echoed by others, Red Bank board of ed President Fred Stone called him “a true gentleman.”
“A journalist of impeccable discretion, trustworthiness and style, John left a mark on the many communities which he covered,” Mayor Pasquale Menna wrote.
A Middletown resident, Burton, 61, worked for the Courier and the Hub newspapers before landing about 20 years ago at the Two River Times, where he covered politics, business, development issues, the environment and more. Press tags around his neck and notepad in hand, he was a fixture in the front row of municipal meetings.
In his feature writing, Burton displayed a chef’s sense of seasoning. A 2000 piece he wrote for the Hub, about then-Mayor Ed McKenna serving as marriage officiant, included this:
There have been instances when people have fainted, and a time when a bridegroom started sobbing uncontrollably and had to be ushered into the office to regain his composure. There was even a time when one individual became so nerve-wracked, there was — how shall we say it? — a nervous “accident.”
In a profile that traced Marc Kline’s life path from a career in law to one immersed in social justice, Burton noted the future rabbi had been “thrown out of his synagogue as a boy following his bar mitzvah.”
Burton won multiple journalism awards, including three from the New Jersey Press Association for work published in 2014. One was for a feature that spotlighted locals whose workday begins when everyone else’s ends: bartenders, cab drivers, cops and more.
Burton himself worked for a time as a bouncer at the Dublin House Pub in Red Bank.
A sampling of his bylines can be found here.
A non-smoker, Burton was diagnosed with lung cancer in December, 2017, and soon after was also found also to have brain cancer, which forced him to put down his notepad. He endured multiple surgeries and treatments, and through it all, longed to return to work, he told redbankgreen in 2019.
“There’s a line from ‘Waiting for Godot’ that goes something like, ‘I must go on, I can’t go on, I will go on,'” Burton said said via email. “That kind of says it.”
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