California Beat Hero: Phillip Burton
June 1, 1926 – April 10, 1983
United States Congressman
California has had many distinguished United States Congressmen and Congresswomen through the years, but very few can say that they accomplished and controlled so much during their lifetime as Phillip Burton. However for all that he accomplished, few even know his name. Perhaps the epitaph that marks his grave best describes why Phil Burton is a California Beat hero:
“His motivation was the common good.
His life was service.
His love was the people.”
Phil Burton came to San Francisco in 1941 with his family and was a graduate of the University of Southern California. From 1957 until 1964 he served with distinction in the California State Assembly before he was elected to the United States House of Representatives representing California’s 5th District.
While in Congress he became an advocate of both labor and environmental causes. But perhaps what he is most associated with in the Bay Area today is the Golden Gate National Recreational Area (GGNRA). The GGNRA is close to the hearts of the California Beat and includes favorite locations such as Fort Point, Fort Funston, and our beloved Sweeney Ridge. Other GGNRA locations include Fort Mason, the Marin Headlands and San Bruno Mountain.
On April 10, 1983, Phil Burton died suddenly at the age of 56. In his place, his wife, Sala Burton, was easily elected to Congress where she served until her death in 1987 from cancer. Left to follow in her footsteps was yet another San Francisco politician by the name of Nancy Pelosi, who would rise up and today is Speaker of the House of Representatives.
As for the Burtons, Phil and Sala now rest peacefully at San Francisco National Cemetery, fittingly part of the GGNRA. Not that far away in San Francisco’s Fort Mason, a statue of Phil Burton was erected from a spot with a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
To show the amount of respect we have for Phil, on June 1, 2009, the CaliforniaBeat visited San Francisco National to wish him a happy birthday. He was a great man who we are honored to call a California Beat Hero.