Joe Burton, 86, of Atlanta, veteran legislator championed disabled kids

In Georgia, he was a state representative for 10 years and a state senator for 20. He devoted his legislative career to helping special-needs children and the mentally and physically disabled.

Some contributions:

He called for a Senate study that dealt with the education of special-needs preschoolers. It led to federal legislation that required states to address the issue. He was responsible for a law that required educators be trained to identify special-needs students.

His legislative efforts stemmed, in part, from experiences with his late daughter, Virginia Louise “Ginny” Burton. She had Down Syndrome.

“That inspired him to get into politics,” said his daughter, Carolyn Thomas of Rydal. “His attention was drawn to the needs of special-needs children.”

Mr. Burton simply had a kind heart, too.

You could find him ringing the Salvation Army bell at North Lake Mall. He also scheduled volunteers to work the mall. If they didn’t show up for a shift, he did.

When it came to blood donations, Mr. Burton gave generously.

“182 pints,” his daughter said. “He did it just to help humanity.”

Joe Burton, 86, of Atlanta, died Tuesday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at the Golden Living Center-Briarwood in Tucker. The funeral will be 2 p.m. Friday at Oak Grove United Methodist Church in Atlanta. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements.

An Atlanta native, Mr. Burton was a Commercial High graduate. In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Air Force and served as a combat navigator who flew 67 World War II missions.

After the war, he earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial management at Georgia Tech. He was called back to the Air Force during the Korean conflict. When he returned home, he held various sales positions before forming Joe Burton Co. — a building specialty sales outfit — in 1963.

In 1972, Mr. Burton was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. Ten years later, voters sent him to the state Senate. At 80, the retired legislator staged an unsuccessful political comeback in a 2004 bid for the Senate District 41 seat.

Mr. Burton supported charities like United Way and the American Red Cross. He served on advisory boards that included the Salvation Army and Friends of Disabled Adults and Children.

Friends founder Ed Butchart said Mr. Burton’s contributions to his ministry were immeasurable.

“He gave us credibility we may not have had without him,” said Mr. Butchart of Black Mountain, N.C. “He had a terrific passion for people with disabilities. Just a delightful human being.”

In 2004, AJC Thinking Right columnist Jim Wooten called Mr. Burton a compassionate conservative. The lawmaker summed up his legislative career thusly:

“I’m most proud of what I’ve done for people less fortunate than me,” he said at the time.

Additional survivors include his wife of 59 years, Bessie Lucille Walraven Burton of Atlanta; another daughter, Patricia Wood of Peachtree City; a son, Lewis Burton of Lawrenceville; and four grandchildren.

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