The New England Patriots learned this morning of the passing of Ron Burton, the first player drafted in franchise history. He was 67 years old.
"Ron Burton was a compassionate man who dedicated his life to helping others and re-invested everything he had back into his community," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "He was an inspiration to everyone he came in contact with and positively impacted the lives of thousands of children. On behalf of the entire Patriots organization, we extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, JoAnn, and the entire Burton family."
As a high school senior, Ron Burton was considered the best football player in the state of Ohio after he earned All-American and All-Ohio honors as a senior. He received 47 scholarship offers that year and chose Northwestern University, where he earned All-American honors during his junior and senior seasons. On Nov. 22, 1959, the American Football League held their inaugural draft and the Boston Patriots selected Burton with their first pick.
In six seasons with the Patriots he appeared in 69 games and recorded 4,249 all-purpose yards while scoring 18 touchdowns. In 1962, he appeared in every game and recorded career highs with 548 yards and two touchdowns on 134 carries (4.1 avg.). He also added 40 receptions for 461 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Throughout his playing career, Burton was a leader both on the field and in the community. Following his career, Burton remained in New England, where he raised his family and continued his commitment to philanthropy. In 1985, Ron and his family bought 305 acres of land in Hubbardston, Mass. and built the facilities to host the Ron Burton Training Village, which annually provides a month-long "training camp" atmosphere for inner-city and underprivileged children to help them build self-esteem, self-reliance, respect for others and racial harmony through athletic and educational activities. Thousands of children from throughout New England have attended the camp, which has hosted attendees from as far away as Florida and California.
This past summer, the New England Patriots created a community service award and named it after Ron Burton. The award will be presented annually to the player who, like Burton, makes the greatest impact in the New England community. On Aug. 25, 2003, Joe Andruzzi became the team's first recipient of the New England Patriots' Ron Burton Community Service Award.
"Ron Burton was a tremendous asset to the New England community," added Kraft. "We are all saddened by his loss."