The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute hosted a Celebration of Life event on March 30 in honor of Marion B. Burton, who passed away on January 27, 2024, at the age of 93.

More than 100 of Burton’s family members, friends, and colleagues attended the celebration, which included several speakers, an aircraft flyover, U.S. Navy funeral honors, a poem reading by his grandchildren, and the dedication of a new sculpture commissioned by his family. The sculpture — Visibility: Unlimited by Arkansas raw industrial artist Russell Lemond — is now available for public viewing at our Studio Overlook.

“What we are going to do today is tell the story of Marion Burton,” Janet Harris, Institute executive director/CEO, said at the start of Saturday’s event. “The story of an Arkansan who never stopped chasing the horizon and whose legacy is an encouragement for us to do the same.” Additional speakers included:

  • Marion Stevenson, a colleague in Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration
  • Dr. Deborah Baldwin, chair of the Institute’s board of directors
  • Dr. Marta Loyd, Institute executive director emerita
  • Dr. Donald Bobbitt, president of the University of Arkansas System
  • Jynks Burton, Marion Burton’s daughter
  • Bill Canino, coordinator of the Arkansas Experimental Aircraft Association

Janet Harris

Institute Excecutive Director/CEO

“It was the life work of Marion Burton to ensure that the Institute would forever honor the leadership, legacy, and values of Winthrop Rockefeller so that we, and the generations to come, would put ourselves to work doing something about the problems we see by chasing the horizon and bringing people together to collaborate — right here where Marion and Gov. Rockefeller did the same.”

The text below is provided from the obituary prepared by Marion Burton’s family.

A Celebration of Life

Born in Little Rock on November 23, 1930, Burton was fascinated by the emerging world of aviation as a young boy growing up in the 1930s and 40s. With the benefit of a Naval ROTC scholarship, he graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1952 with a major in physics and minors in mechanical engineering and naval science. After graduation, he went directly into flight training in the U.S. Navy, launching him on his lifelong dream to fly, something that remained at the center of his world for the rest of his life.

He set lofty goals for himself and his family and held a high standard of intellectual achievement and responsible, ethical action. After serving in the Navy, he went on to law school at the University of Michigan, where he completed his degree in 1959 and returned to Arkansas with his then-wife Ann, the mother of his five children.

Burton returned to Arkansas because he believed that it was where he could have the biggest impact. Upon his return, he immediately got involved in the Republican Party, hoping to be part of a reform of that era’s party. Through his involvement, he was eventually introduced to Winthrop Rockefeller and joined him in his first campaign for governor in 1964. Burton remained part of his inner circle for the rest of Gov. Rockefeller’s life.

In Rockefeller’s successful 1966 campaign, when Burton served as campaign director, he was instrumental in identifying and putting into place new computer technologies that had become available to target and address letters to individual voters, the first time this was done in a political campaign. It took an IBM computer the size of a room to do what we can now do on a cell phone, resulting in Winthrop Rockefeller’s election as governor of Arkansas.

But if that wasn’t enough, Burton still wanted more than anything: to fly! When Winthrop Rockefeller became one of the first owners of a privately-owned business jet, a Sabreliner, Rockefeller asked Burton to oversee his aviation operations, which included a private airport at his home on Petit Jean Mountain. Burton and a fellow pilot flew that plane from France to Arkansas and then also flew a later Falcon Jet that Rockefeller bought in 1965.

Burton went on to set multiple world speed records for commercial business jets in Rockefeller’s Falcon Jet, including one record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Some of those records still stand today.

After Rockefeller’s death in 1973, Burton was named co-executor of the governor’s estate and a trustee of the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. As executive trustee, the Trust remained the focus of the remainder of Burton’s professional life.

The crowning achievement of his work with the Trust was the creation in 2018 of the Governor Winthrop Rockefeller Endowment, a gift of over $100 million from the Trust that is held by the University of Arkansas Foundation to ensure long-term support for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and the lasting legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller. The Institute is housed in the former Winrock Farms farm buildings on top of Petit Jean Mountain.

When not working on airplanes, boats, cars, or on the small farm that he owned in Perry County, Burton could be found jogging at the Y, or later the LR Athletic Club, playing tennis at LR Racquet Club, or skiing the slopes of the Rocky Mountains. He was active in multiple organizations, serving on the boards of many, including the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Little Rock YMCA, Winrock International, the Arkansas Aerospace Education Center, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Foundation, the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation, and the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society, among others.

He retired from the Navy Reserve with the rank of Captain and was awarded the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award by the Federal Aviation Administration for over 50 years of professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise.

In addition to helping secure the $100 million endowment in 2018, he went a step further and announced the Marion B. Burton Family Endowment gift of $1 million in 2021.

Burton spent the last 27 years of his life with his loving partner, Doris Davis, who gave all of herself to him when he needed it the most. He would gather annually with his four children and nine grandchildren, who were scattered around the world, wherever the family could find a place to meet.

After the main ceremony and luncheon, attendees gathered by the Studio for an additional tribute service. Everyone looked out onto the river valley as the Arkansas Experimental Aircraft Association flew overhead in the Missing Man formation — an aerial salute performed in memory of a fallen pilot or military service member. Click here to watch the video. Burton’s family also received U.S. Navy Funeral Honors before the dedication of Visibility: Unlimited.

Russell Lemond


Visibility: Unlimited is what every pilot loves to see, and that’s the way it’s usually presented when they’re looking at weather conditions. The sculpture is made from aluminum, which is a very interesting metal in itself. It’s light and malleable but strong. It’s naturally resistant to oxidation. Take a straight piece of it and put a curve along the right arc, and it becomes stronger in the desired direction. I can’t help but see human characteristics in there as they relate to what we’re honoring here today.”

Visibility: Unlimited is oriented facing due west and is designed in such a way that the sunsets during the summer and winter solstices will be framed in the space formed at the ends of the vortices.

“When I talked to some of his flying buddies,” Lemond continued, “it was brought to my attention that it wasn’t just flying he loved; it was the love of aviation — the gathering of data, logistics, flight conditions, and navigational points. Knowing that compass headings were integral to lots of these things, I couldn’t help incorporating the headings for the solstices. Like Marion, it is more than the sum of its parts.”


  1. 1
    Buddy Nichols on April 18, 2024

    I remember and highly venerate this great and impeccable man. Loyal to the end to our Nation and to the Legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller. A true Statesman.

  2. 2
    Betty Sue Ward on April 18, 2024

    What a wonderful tribute to Marion Burton, a colleague and dear friend to my late husband, John L. Ward and myself, his widow, Betty S. Ward. Thank you for honoring Marion’s legacy !! Betty

  3. 3
    Marsha Heien on April 23, 2024

    Where is a photo of the sculpture?

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