Burton had been in the hospital for weeks waiting to get that transplant, which finally happened in the past week. It's why he was speaking via speakerphone at the Aviation Authority's meeting earlier this month. (That's where he joined his colleagues in voting to redo TIA director Joe Lopano's latest contract revisions.)
In fact, you could argue that if it weren't for Burton, Lopano might still be toiling in Dallas or at another U.S. airport. That's because Burton was a driving force in challenging longtime TIA head Louis Miller in 2009. Due to a variety of factors, Miller stepped down from the position in 2010.
Ever since he was named to the aviation authority in the middle of 2009, Burton was a catalyst for change, demanding that Miller explain why the airport wasn't pursuing more direct international flights.
Burton had an illustrious career in law long before the general public ever heard from him regarding airport matters, and he was a prominent Republican as well, having served as outside general counsel to Florida Speaker of the House Johnny Byrd in 2003-2004.
According to his biography listed on the Broad and Cassel Web site, Burton held an AV rating with Martindale Hubbell for over 15 years; only 5 percent of attorneys are awarded this rating, which denotes the highest accolade an attorney can receive for his legal ability and “adherence to professional standards of conduct, ethics, reliability and diligence.”
In 2009 he was named a "Florida Legal Elite" in Florida Trend magazine by his peers, an honor awarded to less than 2 percent of the Florida Bar.
Interestingly, because of the somewhat "bull in the china shop" style with which he went after Miller in 2009, a lot of Tampa political elites, in both the media and in local government, decided they didn't like him, with his Republican background being used by some as an example of how he couldn't be trusted.
But in fact Burton was tapping into sentiments expressed by many others in Tampa over the years that Louis Miller had fallen down on some aspects of his job. Because Miller and TIA had a solid reputation over the years, Burton was viewed as some type of GOP interloper selected by Charlie Crist to do... well, something, the critics charged, without ever being too specific.
In fact, Burton was interested in seeing whether or not Tampa International could reach its full potential, hence his enthusiasm for Joe Lopano.
In a statement released Sunday morning Lopano said, "Steve Burton was a lion of a man. He was a champion for change and growth for our entire region and understood the significance of the airport as an economic engine. He believed in the potential of this airport to be a player internationally, and was instrumental in the development of policies to recruit international flights through cooperation with our community partners. My thoughts and prayers are with Steve’s family and friends. He will be missed.”
It should be recalled that when the Aviation Authority was preparing to interview candidates to succeed Louis Miller in 2010, they were going to do so in closed session, prompting an angry editorial from the Tampa Bay Times. That, in turn, prompted Burton to announce that he would hold his interviews in the open.