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Sherri Tombarge
Editorial Services
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Generations of Burtons Raised at VMI

FullTextImage/img/@altBurton family members pause on the Parade Ground during a recent football game day: (from left) Doug Burton ’14, Doug Burton ’80, John Burton ’16, Margaret Burton, Louis Burton, ’16, Jeb Burton ’79, Jake Burton '16, and Danks Burton ’85. – Photo courtesy of Joanne Burton.

LEXINGTON, Va., Dec. 10, 2012 – “The blood in our family pretty much runs red, white and yellow.”

That’s how James E. “Jeb” Burton IV ’79 explains his family’s long tradition of VMI attendance – a tradition that now spans three generations. Burton, a resident of Lynchburg, is the son of the late James E. Burton III ’52, who became the first in a long line of Burtons to attend VMI.

This year, Jeb Burton and his two brothers each have a son who is a 4th Class cadet at VMI. Jeb Burton’s youngest son is Louis J. Burton ’16, while Douglas B. Burton ’80’s youngest son is John E. Burton ’16. The two cousins are joined at VMI this fall by another cousin, Jacob D. Burton ’16, son of Jeb and Doug’s youngest brother, Daniel H. “Danks” Burton ’85. Rounding out the picture is 2nd Class cadet Douglas B. Burton Jr., son of Doug Burton and older brother of John E. Burton.

To add to those ties, the three Burton brothers’ lone female sibling, Stephanie, married Jeb Burton’s Brother Rat, Robert H. Patterson III ’79.

The Burton brothers and their wives, along with their mother, Margaret Burton, gathered for tailgating before VMI’s football game against The Citadel on Nov. 10, where they shared their reminiscences of the Institute and its place in their lives.

“The whole family always talked [about VMI],” said Doug Burton, a masonry contractor who now lives in Apex, N.C. “I knew I always wanted come to VMI. It was always a big influence. I never really thought about going anywhere else.”

Like his father, 4th Class Cadet John Burton never gave other schools much thought. “I never really opened my mind to any other [school]. It was always in the back of my mind that I would come here,” he said.

John Burton’s uncle, Danks Burton, also recalled knowing without a shadow of a doubt that VMI would be the school for him.

“It turns out [VMI] was the only school I applied to,” said Danks Burton, a Raleigh, N.C., resident who is also in the masonry business. “By the time I became a senior in high school and had to look at colleges, my two older brothers had already finished here. I had been coming here for football games my whole life. …. I guess that’s what I get for being the baby in the family.”

The middle generation of Burtons learned to love VMI from a young age through frequent trips to Keydet football games. “We were bringing these boys [to VMI] from before they were in kindergarten,” said Margaret Burton, who raised her children in Altavista and now lives in Lynchburg.

“We used to play football on the Parade Ground after the game, while the parents were up at Alumni [Moody] Hall,” added Jeb Burton, her eldest son, who is now president of Lynchburg-based Templeton Paving.

Margaret Burton remembered a football weekend when all three of her boys were sporting the Institute’s colors. “I knitted each of them a red, white and yellow striped sweater,” she recalled. “I heard somebody saying, while we were up at [Moody Hall], ‘Look at those boys with their VMI sweaters on.’”

And the Burtons’ support of the Keydet football team didn’t stop with home games. “We went to all of the Thanksgiving games at Victory Stadium, and then to the Hotel Roanoke after the games,” said Jeb Burton. His mother recalled cleaning out the family home in Altavista and finding a sign of long-ago times – a banner reading, “VMI 60, VPI 0.”

The red-, white- and yellow-spangled weekends were buttressed by instructions from their father about how to choose a college. “His instructions were that we could look at three in-state schools, and one of those had to be VMI,” Jeb Burton recollected. “We could apply to two in-state schools, and one of those had to be VMI. We could go to one in-state school, and that had to be VMI.”

Laughing, he added, “That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but only a little bit.”

Margaret Burton, meanwhile, is simply amazed that four of her 12 grandchildren are current cadets. “I’m very, very proud,” she remarked. “It bubbles over. I think people around me get tired of hearing me talk about [the Burton cadets]. … I think my children are proud of their children, too.”

Added Jeb Burton, “[VMI is] a great tradition and legacy.”

It’s a tradition and legacy that very well may continue – Danks Burton’s youngest son, Drew, is just 13 years old.

“I hope he will apply,” said Danks Burton.

– Mary Price

–VMI–