Welcome to the club of Ron Burton

Ron D. Burton retired as president of the University of Oklahoma Foundation Inc. in 2007. He is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, the Oklahoma Bar Association, and the Cleveland County Bar Association. He is also a member of the American Bar Association, the ABA Section of Taxation Exempt Organizations Committee, and the ABA Section of Real Property, Probate, and Trust Committee on Charitable Organizations. He was vice president of the Last Frontier Council of the Boy Scouts of America and received the Silver Beaver Award. He also received the Norman United Way and Junior League Volunteer of the Year Civic Award.

His extensive service to The Rotary Foundation includes vice chair and member of the Foundation Trustees, vice chair of the Future Vision Committee, and member of the International PolioPlus Committee and PolioPlus Speakers Bureau. Other service includes national adviser for the Permanent Fund Initiative, member of Permanent Fund Leadership Team, and consultant to the Development Committee. In addition, he has served as a regional Rotary Foundation coordinator and moderator of the regional Rotary Foundation coordinator training program.

Burton has received the RI Service Above Self Award and the Foundation’s Citation for Meritorious Service, Distinguished Service Award, and International Service Award for a Polio-Free World. He and his wife, Jetta, are Paul Harris Fellows, Benefactors, Major Donors, and members of the Paul Harris, Bequest, and Arch C. Klumph Societies.

When it came to meeting his future wife, Jetta, Burton was initially in the right place, but his timing was a bit off. Both charter members of the baby boom generation, they were born in the same year and at the same overcrowded hospital, where dresser drawers substituted for basinets. But he arrived three months ahead of her. They had mutual friends growing up and finally met in high school, where they were members of the band. He was a junior and played trombone. She was a sophomore and played bassoon. Their first date was 18 September 1962. They tied the knot in college.

After 45 years of marriage, with a daughter, a son, and three grandchildren, Burton emphasizes that their life together has been a partnership, especially when it comes to Rotary.

“Jetta is my best critic,” says Burton, a member of the Rotary Club of Norman. “She will level with me, on whether I made a natural and believable presentation – on all sorts of things. She’s been supportive all along the way, from presidents-elect training seminars to district assemblies and conferences. If she had not supported me in this, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The vital role of the family in Rotary is at the core of Burton’s beliefs. “When we talk about the family of Rotary, I know public relations is a part of that,” he says. “But to me, it really is the family of Rotary. If you get your own family involved in this, with your own heart, and it expands to the world, that’s the family of Rotary – that’s community service.”

During the 2013-14 year, the Rotary International president traveled more than half-a-million miles across 50 countries, to inspire and motivate Rotary’s 1.2 million members. Although many encouraged him to use cheaper, virtual alternatives, he believes it takes face-to-face engagement.

“I was the first president to have a Google Hangout and have done Facebook chats,” Burton says, reflecting on his term, which ends at midnight 30 June. “But I asked Rotarians to Engage Rotary, Change Lives, so I needed to live that as well, by sitting at kitchen tables talking to families, visiting community projects, speaking to clubs, and [meeting] with other leaders around the world to promote Rotary’s good work.”

Burton, Rotary’s 105th president, calls the job one of “awesome and great responsibility.”  He adds that it’s been important to remember that “this position isn’t about me. It’s about the job.”

The job of Rotary president essentially begins election to the position a year before taking office. Presidents-elect set an agenda for the coming year, pick committee chairs, and work on the convention program. All of that, Burton says, is to set the stage for a successful term.

“There’s a saying in Oklahoma that where you go in life, whatever job you set out to do, you should always leave the woodpile a little higher than it was when you found it,” he says. “With the tremendous support of Rotarians worldwide, I believe we accomplished that this year.”

A big contribution to that woodpile is one of the things Burton is most proud. He asked each one of his 537 district governors to make a gift to The Rotary Foundation. No matter the size of the contribution or the fund, he wanted all of them to show support for the Foundation. And they did, becoming the first district governor class to make that commitment, raising more than $700,000.

“What we’re talking about here is a change of thinking, a change in culture,” says Burton. “There needs to be the thought that this is our Foundation and the more we support it, the more lives we can change.”