The school has had few friends in its 47 years to rival Rick Burns. Actually, you can’t rival Rick – he is too much of an individual! Nominally, Rick is our roofer. That's how we met him. We were looking for a skilled slate roofer. Even over 30 years ago, skilled slate roofers, with all the knowledge that came from years of apprenticeship and practice, were few and far between. We had already been stung by people who claimed the skills, but didn’t have them.
I don’t know how Rick first came on the scene, but he was the answer to our prayers. At first Rick tries to come across — as many people from Maine do — as less knowledgeable and sophisticated as city folks. Of course, it rarely turns out to be true of any of those other deceptively simple folks, and it's even less so with Rick. In fact, Rick knows everything – he certainly knows everything that I don’t know, and almost all of what I do. And what he doesn’t know, he has enough electronic devices in his truck to find out!
But that wasn’t the reason we first came to respect and admire him. It was his consummate skill with slate roofing. Eventually we began to understand who Rick was as a person. He has the sweetest personality of anyone I know. He's kind, generous, painstaking, loyal, and has very high standards, which he gently makes clear to student after student!
At around the same time we realized what a personal asset he was to the school, we began to realize the devotion that he was showing to our property. It turned out that he not only loves old buildings, he especially loves this old property, and all of its facets. He likes spending hours on the roof with the life of the students going on around him on the ground.
Over the last couple of decades, while replacing every single slate on our very complex roof, Rick was getting to know every part of the campus. He saw everything. He knew which kid was “the squirrel” (as in flying squirrel)! He also has a complete idea of how things should be. He knows more about these buildings than anyone I can imagine. He always sees what's right and what's wrong about the physical plant, and what the long term solutions should be. He's actually saved the school, physically, by pointing out problems that have to be attended to, on more than one occasion.
Yet, it is still hard to explain how we value Rick Burns – and how valued he makes us feel in return! When I was talking about my frustration with explaining it, Hayden, who has worked with Rick for a long time said, “he is a complete genius.” Kelly said, “All of the students know exactly what you mean when you say ‘Rick the roofer,’ but like the school itself, you can’t really describe him.” And they do know what they mean.
They mean that Rick is more than just our roofer, though he's responsible for keeping our roof in peak condition — freeing it of ice and snow this winter, even when it meant taking an emergency trip back North from Florida. Rick is a reflection of what Sudbury Valley is as a community.