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Saugus plans tribute for late Ellen Burns, local environmental advocate

SAUGUS – Long before environmentalism became fashionable, Ellen Burns was advocating to protect Saugus’ wild places from development and restore those already on the verge of ruin.Known for her lifetime of public service, Burns died last Dec. 30, her passing a sharp blow to friends and those whose respect she commanded. She was 94.To recognize her many accomplishments and passion for making Saugus a better place to live, a public tribute will be held in her honor in the Town Hall auditorium on Saturday, May 7 at 10 a.m.”Ellen was a very unique person whose public service to the town of Saugus spanned more than half a century,” said Town Meeting member Janet Leuci, among the event organizers. “She served as a member of the Board of Library Trustees, the Board of Appeals, the Planning Board, Town Meeting and also founded SAVE ? Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment.”In 1998, the Ohio native completed 11 years of service on the Planning Board, saying she hoped to travel to distant lands, starting perhaps with Scotland and Austria, and spend more time listening to music, especially Mozart.In November 2007, at age 91, Burns stepped down from Town Meeting after three decades, leaving behind a legacy of people who credit her with kick-starting their political careers. She was recognized with a citation from the state Legislature as the most senior elected official in Massachusetts. During that ceremony, she was described as a pioneer, mentor for young women and the Rose Kennedy of Saugus, perfectly suited to her husband, John, the language arts director for the town’s school. Former Selectman Janette Fasano told Burns, “You set the stage for other women to come along and serve. You had all the credibility, you stuck to your guns and let the chips fall where they may. You always wanted a better town.”The environmental activism for which Burns was well known had its roots in Prankers Pond, abutting the back yard of her tree-shaded Cliff Road home. The pond began drying up after the Board of Selectmen approved a drainage plan in 1957. Burns was incensed.Over the course of decades, Burns spearheaded preservation efforts throughout the town and became “the voice” of authority when questions about zoning arose. When Burns spoke at Town Meeting, people listened.Both Burns and her husband, who died in 2009, were articulate and intellectual, but lacked all pretension. They were a couple about town, having met when she completed a 1943-1946 tour of duty with the U.S. Naval Reserve WAVES and he returned from service with the Navy in the Pacific. They lived for a few years in Cambridge, where she was a research assistant at Harvard University, but eventually the couple moved to Saugus where the Burns family had lived since the 1920s and where he had been teaching since 1938.According to Leuci, a fund has been established by the Saugus Library Foundation to honor Burns’ commitment to public service. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Saugus Library Foundation, Inc., care of Wallace McKenzie, 4 Debston Lane, Lynnfield, MA 01940.McKenzie, a former Saugus resident, is chairman of the foundation.”We tried to come up with some way to perpetuate her service to the community, so we established a special fund within the library foundation,” said Leuci, noting she, McKenzie and Peter Manoogian arranged the May tribute. “We thought the fund could be used to have a community series of speakers, political people, those who have been involved in government. We also thought it appropriate for the foundation because Ellen started her involvement in Saugus by helping out at the library.”Leuci added, “Both John and Ellen cared a lot about the town and protecting the Saugus they loved. She had such a breath of knowledge. So many people went to her for advice. She commanded so much respect. She’s just irreplaceable.”

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