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Columbia County lost a great man, former hockey player, coach

Posted: January 11, 2015 - 12:13am  |  Updated: January 11, 2015 - 3:28am
Augusta Lynx head coach Jim Burton.  Headshot taken on Tuesday, October 8, 2002.  10/8/02 Sports Andrew Davis Tucker  Augusta Lynx head coach Jim Burton.  Headshot taken on Tuesday, October 8, 2002.  10/8/02 Sports Andrew Davis Tucker
Augusta Lynx head coach Jim Burton. Headshot taken on Tuesday, October 8, 2002. 10/8/02 Sports Andrew Davis Tucker
Augusta Lynx head coach Jim Burton. Headshot taken on Tuesday, October 8, 2002. 10/8/02 Sports Andrew Davis Tucker

I was stunned because Jim was only 53 years old and he looked even younger. I had also just seen Jim a few weeks earlier and he looked great. There were no signs he would soon suffer a massive heart attack that would take his life. I was saddened because, like anyone else that knew him, I knew we were losing a class act of the first order.

Burton moved to the CSRA in 2001 when he was named Head Coach of the Augusta Lynx. Two years later when his stint as the Lynx Coach was over, Burton decided not to move on to another Minor League Hockey town. Instead, he and his wife, Sandy, chose to stay in Columbia County to raise their two boys, Ryan and Kelby. Burton loved the game of golf and was an excellent player. Soon, the entire family became fixtures at Jones Creek Golf Club in Evans.

Burton had other business ventures over the years, but he and Sandy were always a part of what was happening at Jones Creek. That is why, when I heard the news of his passing, I immediately thought of my friends Gregg Hemann and Ray Mundy. Gregg and Ray were the owners at Jones Creek and had really built a family atmosphere at the club. And, as I heard the news, I knew my friends had to be hurting. How could they not? I cannot remember the last time I had been to Jones Creek and not seen Jim. He was always there, with a smile on his face, and ready to talk sports or about his two boys. Yes, Jim Burton absolutely loved his two sons. Kelby, now a redshirt-Junior at Kennesaw State had won a State Title in golf at Lakeside and Jim would smile from ear to ear when I would ask him for an update on how Kelby was playing. Burton was an accomplished golfer in his own right. As a matter of fact, the Burton’s won a Triple Crown of sorts at Jones Creek, when Jim won the Men’s Club Championship, Sandy won the Women’s Club Championship, and Kelby was the club’s Junior Champion.

To find out about his win you would have heard it from someone other than Jim Burton. He rarely talked about his own accomplishments. While he was a excellent golfer, he was an even better hockey player. He grew up in the same town in Canada as hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. And while NHL Fame eluded Burton, he became a legend in his own right during seven seasons playing for the Fort Wayne Komets of the International Hockey League. During his time in Fort Wayne, Burton was named Top Defenseman in the IHL three times and was the Komets MVP twice. Burton was so good on the ice, that Komets’ long time broadcaster Bob Chase called Burton, “the Minor League Bobby Orr.” After his time in Fort Wayne, Burton played in Austria. He represented the country in the 1994 Olympic Games and was a member of the Austrian National Team during four World Championships. After his playing days were over, Burton had coaching stints in Texas and Arkansas before arriving in Augusta.

No, you would never have known Jim was such a fantastic player and had accomplished so much. I cannot remember a time he ever talked about himself. He had this great quality of making the conversation about you. He was eager to hear about everyone else. Their family, their golf game, he truly cared about people. Perhaps that is why I feel like Columbia County has a huge hole this morning as I type this column. Jim spent his 14 years in our area making friends, and today I think about all those friends are hurting. I think about his beautiful wife Sandy and their two boys.

I realize there is not much any of us can do or say to make the pain go away, but I hope they are getting a chance to see just how much their father meant to the people in his life.

I hope they realize how respected he was, by everyone that knew him. I hope they know their father was cherished by this community and will not be forgotten. Jim always had a smile on his face. Maybe knowing how much everyone cared for him will, if just for a moment, put a smile on their face too. I think that would make him very happy.

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