Destin honors memory of Matt Burns, family to serve as grand marshal in Christmas parade

Tina Harbuck
Matt Burns, who passed away in May this year, will be remembered by his family and the community during the Christmas Parade. Burns was known for his volunteer work, as well as his love for sports in Destin. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

In memory of Matt Burns, a longtime Destin resident who passed away in late May this year, his wife Juarate, along with their two sons Matt and Jeff and their families, will represent him as one of the grand marshals for this year’s Christmas parade.

“He’d like it,” said his wife Juarate. “He’d get into ... he’s put a Santa hat on and ride.”

Burns said she was contacted by Lisa Firth, parade director, a few weeks back about serving as grand marshal. The Burns had been on Firth’s list as prospective marshals for a while, but when Matt passed away, Firth asked if she and her boys would do it in honor of Matt.

The answer was an easy “yes.”

“It’s fun. You know it’s an honor, but even more than that it’s fun.”

Matt and Juarate moved to Destin in 1979 from Mississippi and in the past 40 years, she said they made more than half of the parades, missing a few to rainy weather.

As a matter of fact, Juarate said she even marched in one as part of the Destin Library drill team.

“That was a hot day ... I remember getting sunburned,” she said.

The library crew marched along chanting a cheer that went something like, “I don’t know, but I’ve been told, library books are as good as gold.”

Matt Burns was chosen for his service to the Destin community.

"Matt was a great mentor and coach to volunteers and children in Destin’s Little League and football programs,“ said Lisa Firth, co-chairman for the Destin parade committee, as well as Parks and Recreation Director.

“Coach Burns volunteered his hours to this community to start the foundation of the Destin’s Parks and Recreation Department. I was lucky to volunteer with Coach Matt and have had the privilege working with his family and calling him friend,” she added.

Jurate said Matt loved sports.

He coached in the Destin Little League Association for a number of years from T-Ball to Major League, to Destin Dolphin football and even served as president of the Destin Fishing Rodeo.

“I always thought that was funny ... because he didn’t like to fish, but he did that as a civic thing,” Juarate said.

She even stepped in and volunteered as a judge at the Rodeo for several years.

Matt was also a recipient of the Ross Marler Award for volunteerism.

“That was a real honor for him,” she said.

Matt worked on the original incorporation plan for Destin, the first time when it failed and the second round when it succeeded in 1984.

“He wrote a lot of the first charter,” she said.

He also did a lot of legal work for the community. Juarate explained that when Ida Burritt died she left land to the Destin community. But when Destin became incorporated, the land had to be transferred to the city. Matt took care of the deeds.

What would Matt think of serving as grand marshal?

“He’d like being honored ... he was fairly modest, but that’s one of those that’s fun,” Juarate said of the parade.

She’s even looking forward to the parade as well with her boys and grandchildren coming into town to ride along side her.

Plus she likes the idea of waving and seeing a lot of old friends along the parade route, especially around the Benning Drive intersection, her old parade advantage spot.

“It’s a slow enough ride ... you can even speak to them,” she said.

And not too worry there will be candy.

“I’ve got the good candy,” she said with a smile on her face.

Juarate said she went the day after Halloween and got the deals on the big bags of the little chocolate candy bars.

“I bought tons of that,” she said. “We’re not throwing any starlight mints.”

This is the first in a two-part series to give you a little insight on the folks who were chosen to represent Destin in this year’s 35th annual Christmas Parade. The city of Destin has selected two to serve as grand marshal for this event - the Burns family, who will represent Matt Burns who passed away earlier this year, and Dot Jones.

First up — The Burns Family.