A one-time avid golfer, Bishop H. David Burton prided himself in long, straight drives and iron shots that regularly left his ball right where he wanted it - safely in the middle of the fairway. He and his wife, the former Barbara Matheson, tend to live their lives the same way.
"I think that's kind of been our hallmark, we've tried not to be extreme one way or another, but to stay in the middle," explained Bishop Burton, sustained Oct. 3 as first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric. "The gospel has been the center part of our lives, and we have tried to follow the Brethren as best we can, in our humble way. We've tried to live life down the center."This particular portion of Bishop Burton's philosophy of living was crystalized when he played in a pro-am golf event with the legendary Arnold Palmer years ago.
"This was more a social occasion than a serious competitive event, and I don't remember much except that I played poorly," Bishop Burton recalled. "I do remember listening to him as he visited with his young caddy. They walked up to the ball and his caddy said,
There's water on the right and trees on the left.' Arnold Palmer stood back and said,Son, don't tell me what's on the right and what's on the left, just tell me how far it is down the middle.' That really made an impression on me."
Both Bishop and Sister Burton's propensity to live life down the middle was ingrained in their early years by faithful parents and strong family support.
"We both had wonderful examples of dedication to the Lord and to service in our homes as we grew up," said Sister Burton. "That was probably the foundation of our spiritual lives."
Bishop Burton said the Church and its teachings were an important part of family life for as far back as he can remember. "Being born in this dispensation into those kind of families was a real blessing."
Besides being blessed by the faithfulness of his immediate family, Bishop Burton has drawn strength from reading about the lives and sacrifices of his ancestors, including his great-great-grandfather, Robert Taylor Burton, who served as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric from 1874 until his death in 1907. The original Bishop Burton was known for his efforts to help provide for the poor and needy. In his assignment as a member of the Presiding Bishopric, he was given the charge by the First Presidency to prepare the Tabernacle for dedication, and to oversee completion of the Salt Lake Temple at a time when funds for temple construction were difficult to come by.
"That was one of the big challenges of his life, to raise money and organize the temple project, along with the rest of the bishopric at that time," said Bishop Burton.
After reflecting on his great-great- grandfather, Bishop Burton commented about his own family. The Burtons are a close-knit bunch and regularly find - or create - opportunities to be together. Several times a year Bishop Burton will schedule a golf game with his two sons and son-in-law.
"We have some nice battles," laughs Bishop Burton. "I like to challenge them occasionally. It's always a great experience to be with the boys. They are a captive audience when you have them on the golf course. We enjoy the time together."
Actually, Bishop Burton's days as an "avid" golfer were during his teenage years. "There was a time in my life that golf was the most important thing in the world," he remembered. "I won a few state championships for my age bracket `100 years ago' and thought I would be the next guy on the pro tour. I thought there was nothing else in life, but a mission fixed that."
Bishop Burton was a missionary in Australia from 1958 to 1960. Upon his return home, he and Sister Burton were married Sept. 8, 1960, in the Salt Lake Temple.
Young David Burton and Barbara Matheson had met each other years previous in an early-morning seminary class in junior high school in Salt Lake City. The class was taught by LeGrand R. Curtis, now Elder LeGrand R. Curtis of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. Sister Burton candidly admits that she was first attracted to young David by his "good looks," not surprising for junior high school. "Then I learned all of the other nice things about him," she is quick to add.
The two dated on and off throughout high school, both dating others, as well. Their social activities consisted mostly of dances to the music of big bands and sports events, often with Bishop Burton as a participant.
While Bishop Burton has a proclivity toward golf and other sports, Sister Burton has a love of music and has attained expertise therein. She has taught piano lessons for more than 30 years, having taught many young people in the East Mill Creek area of Salt Lake City to play. She currently has 38 students and plans to continue her teaching.
The Burtons have raised their five children in East Mill Creek. Their home borders a scenic, winding stream lined with towering trees that make it an ideal play area for children and, now, grandchildren.
The couple has no hesitancy about accepting this new call to serve. Since their marriage, service to family and Church have been at the top of their priority list.
"I've never felt like there was a difference between the priorities of serving the Lord and raising a family," Sister Burton reflected. "I think endeavoring to raise a righteous family is serving the Lord."
She added that they have consistently tried to support their five children in their respective activities.
Noted Bishop Burton, "We might have the world's record going to ball games and recitals for the kids, those sorts of things."
He is quick to credit his wife as a primary reason for their close family.
"Her interests have often been set aside in the interest of the children," Bishop Burton said. "Barbara's a genius when it comes to getting the family together. She can make a great family event out of holidays, birthdays, almost anything. She will find almost any excuse she can to celebrate an event as a family. We celebrate things like St. Patricks Day around our house because it's an opportunity to get the family together."
He said Sister Burton has a special day set aside for each of their grandchildren where she gives them a menu of special things they can choose to do, see and eat. When the youngsters want to wade in the creek, she jumps in and wades with them.
Bishop Burton has also relinquished many of his personal hobbies through the years due to his commitment to family and Church. He has often been busy with Church and work responsibilities that have taken him out of the home, and his family has always supported him 100 percent.
"The children always felt good about what he was doing, so that made it easy," Sister Burton said.
These days, several rounds of golf a year is about all Bishop Burton's schedule allows. Besides serving as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, he is also serving as a stake president - but only until Nov. 7. He was called seven months ago as president of a married student stake at the University of Utah. "One of the most difficult aspects of this new assignment is having to leave there," said Bishop Burton. "You get attached to those kids like they were your own. They have a great spirit and a lot of enthusiasm. I'll probably have the record for the shortest tenure of any stake president in the Church."
For the past 15 years, Bishop Burton has been employed by the Church as secretary to the Presiding Bishopric. That experience has helped prepare him well to serve in his new assignment.
"I've been tutored at the feet of giants," said Bishop Burton. "Being around men like Bishop Victor Brown and Bishop Robert Hales and their counselors has affected my thought processes and how I handle my life. They are all great examples of Christians and devout Latter-day Saints."
He said this particular assignment came as quite a shock. "I was quite surprised and very much taken back. I felt very inadequate, and that's probably the understatement of the year. I drove home to tell Barbara, and we just sat and looked at each other for a long time."
Yet Bishop Burton also has seen how the Lord works through those who are willing to do their best and seek His Spirit.
"It doesn't matter what Church position it is, when the mantle falls, somehow the Lord can work with his servants to facilitate His causes. I guess we will just have to have faith in the Lord that that will take place with us."
Bishop H. David Burton
- Family: Born in Salt Lake City April 25, 1938, to Harold Nelson and Blanche Mabel Swanson Burton; married Barbara Matheson on Sept. 8, 1960, in the Salt Lake Temple; parents of five children: Rebecca (Burton) Boucher, 30; Melinda (Burton) Hafen, 28; Brent David, 23; Natalie, 20; Brandon Paul, 17; six grandchildren.
- Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from the University of Utah, master of business administration degree from the University of Michigan.
- Employment: Secretary to the Presiding Bishopric; assistant Church budget officer.
- Church service: Bishop, bishop's counselor, high councilor, stake president, temple sealer.