Dick Burwash, who died last week at age 94, was a man who accomplished much in life while representing the best values of the farming community.
No phrase describes Dick Burwash better than "gentleman farmer."
He was many things to many people at one time or another — a philanthropist, an occasional political activist, a community leader. But long after he'd left the John Deere tractors that he loved and settled for the alternative of "city life," there was no mistaking that he was first, last and always a farmer, a "clod kicker," as he sometimes termed himself.
And he was invariably a gentleman — and one of the old school, at that — humble, soft-spoken, deferential and good-natured.
Mr. Burwash died last week at the age of 94. He leaves a long legacy of public and private service for which he rarely, if ever, sought recognition. You could know Dick Burwash well without knowing that he served with the U.S. Army on D-Day and beyond, without knowing the success he enjoyed in his chosen profession, without knowing the major role he played in shaping farm policy, without knowing he made major charitable contributions in his life.
He played such a significant role in community leadership, in fact, that he and just a few others much like him — Lyle Grace and Gerald Compton come to mind — largely inspired creation of The News-Gazette's Farm Leader Award. Mr. Burwash was among the first recipients, in 1973, of an honor intended to recognize the significant role in communitywide leadership played by some of those in the area's largest industry. In subsequent years, he played a leadership role among other recipients of that award as they chose other honorees and assured continuation of the program to this day.
But whether the topic was that or any number of others that he could discuss with intellect and sincerity, his remarks were almost always delivered with an infectious smile, a quick wit and a courtly manner. Ask him, however, and he was simply a "clod kicker" who liked chewing the fat at the coffee shop.
It would be easy to say they quit making them like Dick Burwash. We can only hope that isn't true.