“I have been around the world as a merchant marine,” said George Burnett on Tuesday afternoon. “I have been from England to Australia, from Hawaii to Brazil and without any reservation or hesitation I can say that Sag Harbor is the best place I have ever been in my life.”
It is that sentiment, and a desire to serve his community that brought Burnett to public service, whether in his career as a merchant marine, his work as a member and current president of the local chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) or his position on the Sag Harbor Village Planning Board for the last 13 years.
In an interview on Tuesday, Burnett announced he had made the decision to resign from the planning board due to his declining health — a decision he stressed was made this Monday, and not two weeks ago when a publication reported his return to the board was unlikely.
“I never gave anyone the authority to use my name or to make that decision for me,” said Burnett. “It was either wishful thinking or conjecture on someone else’s part.”
And for Burnett, the decision to leave the board was not one made lightly, as he expressed feelings of both honor and gratitude at having been asked to serve on the board by former Sag Harbor Mayor Pierce Hance. Burnett described his experience on the board as a pleasure, rather than a burden.
“I thank [Hance], [planning board members] Ann Hansen and Jack Tagliasacchi and [village attorney] Anthony Tohill,” said Burnett. “They taught me a lot about the machinations of the Village of Sag Harbor, its codes and its laws. It was a real pleasure to work with them.”
Burnett said his resignation will take effect on Wednesday, October 29, the day after he serves his last planning board meeting on Tuesday.
But residents in the village shouldn’t expect to count Burnett out. He plans on continuing his work with the AARP and the American Legion in Sag Harbor.
Burnett came to Sag Harbor in 1956, after retiring to Sag Harbor from New Rochelle where he was a barber. Burnett said the retirement came because his eyesight began to wane.
He worked for 11 years with the Burns Construction Company before embarking on decades of civic work, dedicating himself to a number of community organizations.
“I couldn’t work for myself anymore,” said Burnett. “And I wanted to do something for the community.”
For 17 years, Burnett served as president of the Chatfield’s Hills property owners association, and is current president of the local AARP Chapter 408, which serves the Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, North Haven and Noyac communities. He has served as the president of the chapter for the past 15 years. Prior to that commitment he served for 10 years as the program chair.
For the past 10 years, Burnett has also been recognized as a senior officer in the American Legion, and serves on the post’s board of directors. A saxophonist for the last 40 years, Burnett is also vice president of the Suffolk County Jazz Club.
Last year, Burnett was named Suffolk County Senior Citizen of the Year. County officials noted that during his tenure with the Chatfield’s Hills association, Burnett was partly responsible for having water lines brought into the community, as well as for road improvements in the neighborhood.
Blind for the last 25 years, throughout his public service Burnett successfully fought cancer not once, but twice, all the while continuing his advocacy efforts for seniors and veterans.
“I have never given up on anything,” he said on Tuesday.
And he hopes the village does not give up on one of his dreams for the future of Sag Harbor, despite his departure from municipal service.
“I would like to say that in 52 years here there is one thing I always hoped would become a reality in Sag Harbor,” said Burnett. “Bridgehampton has a community center, so does East Hampton and Southampton. Sag Harbor has no community center set aside for the teens, for the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, for the senior citizens. I am very sorry it did not come to be in my time working with the village. One day, I hope it does become a reality and I am here to see it.”