MEMORIAL: More than a thousand people gathered to celebrate the life of Raz Burtonwood, who went missing during a morning swim at Lighthouse Beach on February 16, 2019.
MEMORIAL: More than a thousand people gathered to celebrate the life of Raz Burtonwood, who went missing during a morning swim at Lighthouse Beach on February 16, 2019. Aisling Brennan

Legend of 'quirky' Raz Burtonwood will live on in Ballina

BELOVED Ballina man Raz Burtonwood was farewelled by the community almost a month since he was last seen swimming at Lighthouse Beach.

More than 1000 people gathered at Ballina Seagulls Football Club yesterday afternoon to celebrate the life of Mr Burtonwood, 69, who never returned from his regular morning ocean swim on February 16.

Known for his "quirky” spirit, the former Ballina High School teacher was also heavily involved in Ballina Lighthouse Surf Club, rugby union and league, water polo, outrigger canoeing and cross country groups throughout the area. The search was suspended after four days.

Mr Burtonwood's eldest son Che Burtonwood said the family were touched by the outpouring of support shown by the community.

"It really shows how much the community loved him,” Che said.

"It's been tough, I think because of the nature of (his disappearance) it took a while to hit but I think everyone's been pretty stoic. It's lovely that so many came out (for the memorial service) to show how much they loved him. It's a credit to all the different friends he had in so many walks of life.”

Che said "it's difficult not knowing what's happened” to his father, who he saw as a bit of a legend in his own right.

"I just want to call him up because he'd be the one to make a joke and make everyone feel better,” he said.

"For me, dad was always a man of mystery and there's something to that with him going out the way he's gone out and leaving a bit of mystery. That was the way he was and this will leave a bit of a legend behind, which will just add to the legend that was Raz.”

Celebrant Phil Chapman remarked how special it was to see the number of people who had turned out for the memorial service.

"If the number of people I see here today is an indication, it is certain that Raz touched the lives of almost everyone in our community and beyond,” Mr Chapman said.

"I'd say Raz would be rather surprised and indeed humbled by your attendance here because as quirky as he was, he was never one to take the limelight or seek recognition and probably never wanted to stand out in a crowd even though he did.” A memorial bench has been placed at Ballina Lighthouse Surf Club in Mr Burtonwood's honour.