‘Burt always put the people of Palm Beach County first’
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Whenever Palm Beach County District 5 honored its veterans, such as on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, County Commissioner Burt Aaronson was never far from the activities.
He was always there, standing tall in the crowd of soldiers who had done their duty for family and nation.
Whenever veterans were to be honored, Aaronson made sure it was done right; that there were flags aplenty and lots of cold water to quench speakers’ thirst on hot days. After the ceremonies, he assured there were hot dogs, drinks and chips enough for everyone gathered for the ceremony.
Always the gentleman and socializer who made it a point to attend citizens’ meetings in West Boca, West Delray and West Boynton, Aaronson passed away at his home Oct. 25 at age 90. He had served an unprecedented 20 years in office until a term limit rule imposed during his tenure required him to quit the board in 2012.
“He had trouble accepting it,” said Mary Lou Berger, Aaronson’s longtime executive secretary who succeeded her boss as the current District 5 county commissioner. “He helped me become commissioner. He was a great mentor. After he retired, he’d stop by or watch meetings. He’d call me later and say ‘You did a good job’ or ‘You could have put it another way.’”
While he earned a reputation as a Democratic power broker in the western suburbs, Burt listened first to his constituents. Many streets in his district are paved, sidewalks repaired or built, benches placed and replaced and infrastructure restored at the request of those he represented.
“Burt always put the people of Palm Beach County first,” said U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a fellow Democrat. “He expanded public safety facilities and parks and established attractions like the Palm Beach International Film Festival. He was known as a person willing to work with anyone who could help make our community better.”
Berger said she went to work for Aaronson in 1994, two years after he was elected. “He was a great boss. He studied county issues carefully. And he was loyal, loyal, loyal.”
She recalled with a laugh some of his “Burtisms.” “There was a meeting one time with county staff, she said, when Burt came down on them heavy-handedly. After they left, he looked over at me, smiled and winked.”
Berger remembered how he sat at his desk reading over information on various issues. “He followed the text with his fingers, then tapped a pencil on the paper. He’d read it again and tap the pencil on it a second time. The third tap was his way of saying he understood it.”
The commissioner enjoyed having lunch with his friends and colleagues, including Berger, public relations guy Barry Epstein, who ran several of his campaigns; Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey A. Winikoff, a gregarious jurist also known as the unofficial mayor of West Boca and Andre Fladell, a colorful political gadfly.
Perhaps the most impressive and lasting memorial is Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park, a massive recreation site off Glades Road west of Interstate 441.
Originally named South County Regional Park, the facility was rebranded as to honor the commissioner on Nov. 20, 2012.
Know to everyone as “Burt,” the county official established and aided in the success of countless projects throughout the county. He founded the film festival, was actively involved in promoting Special Olympics and the Club Managers Association of America Therapeutic Recreation Complex.
Development of the 872-acre park began in 1996, with the most recent phase being completed in 2008 – construction of the Sunset Cove Amphitheater.
Aaronson installed illuminated street signs throughout the district to ensure the safety of residents and advocated for the wide variety of recreational and cultural amenities throughout the park.
Born in 1928 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Aaronson was the only child of Irene and Irving Aaronson. He had a career in the home furnishing industry, rising to vice president of Deville Furniture and executive vice president of Eclipse Mattress Company before moving to Palm Beach County.
Aaronson is survived by his wife of 69 years, Sheila, his two sons, Rick and Danny, and their wives, Rebecca and Wendy; his grandchildren, Scott, Glenn, Eric, Brandon and Kamryn, and great-grandchildren Samantha, Maisie and Lincoln.
Funeral services were held Oct. 28 at Beth Israel Memorial Chapel in Delray Beach, with interment at Eternal Light Memorial Gardens.
Those wishing to honor the commissioner with a memorial contribution are asked to consider the Special Olympics of Palm Beach County, 2728 Lake Worth Road, Lake Worth, FL 33461, or by visiting specialolympicsflorida.org/palm-beach.