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The Burton family tradition — one for the books
Since 1946, a member of the Burton family has served on the boards of Milford Memorial and, later, Bayhealth. The Burton family business — I.G. Burton & Co. — is a Milford-based automobile dealership with deep roots in the community. In a very real way, members of the Burton family have helped to usher in the future of healthcare in Milford.
I.G. Burton served on the Board of Directors for Milford Memorial Hospital (MMH) from 1946 through 1985, and as president of the board from 1955 to 1961 and again from 1972 to 1973. His son David joined the board in 1973, served for 30 years, and served as chair in the mid-1980s. Now, I.G. Burton III serves as Chair of Bayhealth’s Board of Directors, appointed in 2016 — a full 70 years after his grandfather joined the Milford board. In addition to their volunteer work on boards and committees, the Burton family has provided philanthropic support through the Bayhealth Foundation and the Milford Auxiliary, where Maradel Burton — I.G. Burton’s wife and David’s mother — served as president from 1966 to 1967.
Although I.G. Burton I passed away in 2004, David described his father’s vision. “My dad always wanted the best medical care here in Milford,” said David. “He, the board, and the physicians worked hard to establish new services to make Milford Memorial the leading medical institution in the area.” David noted that his father was great friends with surgeon Dr. Oliver A. James, himself a second-generation physician, the son of Dr. Oliver V. James, one of Milford Memorial’s original general surgeons.
The I.G. Burton legacy of work included arranging for the donation of Milford Memorial’s first ambulance in collaboration with the Milford Rotary Club, ushering in new plans for the organization (1949), helping to foster the hospital’s first Joint Commission accreditation (1957), celebrating the hospital’s 100,000th patient (1959), and hiring the first African-American clinical staff member (1962). In 1985, I.G., with his friend Robert Fischer Sr., led the drive to establish the new wing of the hospital where Outpatient Services, Milford’s boardrooms, and the Reflections Gift Shop are currently housed.
For 30 years beginning in 1973, David Burton helped to carry on the tradition his father had established. “Milford’s board of directors was quite strong, and we’ve always had excellent medical staff at Milford — they’re first-rate. We all worked together to raise the standards even higher.” During David’s tenure, the board made the decision to open an inpatient rehabilitation center — the first of its kind in the area. “We wanted Milford Memorial to bring needed services to a wide region, one beyond our city.” he said. “Having a rehab here was a big step for this region.”
David was supportive of the 1997 merger between Milford Memorial and Kent General under the name Bayhealth. “We knew it would be tough to continue to stand alone,” he said. The merger, led by MMH Board Chair Robert Fischer Jr., promised to expand the services offered to people in Milford. “That the merger is now bearing fruit with a new, modern facility here in Milford is particularly gratifying.” David’s wife Ann is a longtime supporter of Milford Memorial and participated on the hospital fair committee. The couple, who raised four children, were frequent visitors to the hospital’s emergency room. “Having a great hospital like Milford Memorial right here in our town was very convenient,” said Ann. “And I know how important the hospital is to the local economy.”
David’s son I.G. Burton III was elected Chair of the Bayhealth Board of Directors, with his two-year term beginning in 2016. He’s been on Bayhealth’s board for 10 years, and before that contributed as a subcommittee member. I.G. III sees his new role as an extension of his family’s tradition. “The hospital board experience is a good one,” he said. “It is about caring for people, getting the best medical equipment, and recruiting the best physicians.”
I.G. III shared a special relationship with his grandfather I.G. The two had lunch together every Friday for 28 years, and the elder I.G. taught his namesake everything he knew about Milford’s history. “He’d drive through a neighborhood on the way to the restaurant and point out a house and say, ‘Those folks had the first color TV,’ or ‘That’s where Milford’s fire chief lived,’” said I.G. III. Through these weekly meetings his grandfather instilled a deep sense of pride and personal responsibility for the town of Milford.
The Burton family home was within walking distance of the hospital, and the hospital was a centerpiece in I.G. III’s life. “I remember my dad running over to the hospital for his board meetings,” he said. “And my best childhood memory was the hospital fair,” he said. “I remember squirt guns, prizes, food, and games. Everybody in town helped with that fair. We all had a job to do.”
As Bayhealth’s Board Chair, I.G. III wants people to know how much the new health campus will impact Milford and Sussex County. “This new health campus isn’t just the old Milford hospital being updated; it represents a new healthcare model for people in Sussex County,” he said. “Everybody’s going to benefit from this.”
As many Milfordians can attest, the hospital’s life and future have been carefully cultivated by members of the community who, quite simply, cared for their neighbors. The Burtons are just one of many families who made it their business to ensure Milford had the best healthcare in the region. Community support is as important as ever as Bayhealth plans for the next 100 years.
“In a small town like this, there is a very strong sense of community,” said David. “There’s an understanding that a weakness for one can be a weakness for all, and a strength that is nurtured can be a strength for us all.”
Visit ImagineDE.com to learn more about Bayhealth’s new health campus. Call 302-744-7015 to find out how you can be involved by supporting the Bayhealth Foundation.