Sen. Conrad Burns fondly recalled at memorial ceremony

Yellowstone County officials and guests on Wednesday unveiled a highway sign proclaiming Airport Road as the Sen. Conrad Burns Memorial Highway. (Jonathan McNiven photos)

Originally published in the 10/13/17 print publication.  by Evelyn Pyburn

BILLINGS — A Who’s Who of county residents, both past and present, filled the lobby of the MetraPark arena for the unveiling of the sign that will designate the Conrad Burns Memorial Highway and a commemorative rock with Burns’ brand on it, which has been placed at the Wall of Fame at MetraPark


Friends and associates of the late U.S. Senator walked down memory lane in recalling Burns anecdotes during the ceremony on Wednesday. They also underscored Burns’ achievements on behalf of the community while he served as a county commissioner and as a U.S. Senator.

“Being a county commissioner was the best education he could have had to be a Senator,” said his widow, Phyllis Burns.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman organized the event, explaining that it had its origins when Phyllis Burns asked him what she could do with the rock in their yard that sported Burns’ brand.

Ready to unveil a boulder with Conrad Burns’ cattle brand, Phyllis Burns, at right, is joined by (from left) Taylor Brown, Yellowstone County Commissioners Robyn Driscoll, John Ostlund and Denis Pitman. At right are Dwight McKay, a former county commissioner, and Rep. Dale Mortenson.

Taylor Brown, a former employee and now owner of the Northern Ag Network — a business that Burns founded — noted that it was exactly 50 years ago this week that Burns was serving as manager of the first NILE, which was in progress then, as it is this week. While there are numerous highways named after significant individuals in the state, said Brown, this will be the only one that is named after the person responsible for its construction. The Conrad Burns Memorial Highway is the Airport Road.

Burns was also noted for his efforts in advancing the development of the MetraPark arena, as well as numerous other facilities that now serve Yellowstone County.

“He never wanted his name on anything,” said Brown. Burns’ passion was all about “livestock, youth and farm and ranch families.”

Sen. Conrad Burns’ widow, Phyllis, waves as she stands beside the rock that formerly was part of the landscape at the couple’s home in Billings. It was moved to MetraPark earlier this year, where it is near the Wall of Fame.

Montana Sen. Roger Webb and Rep. Dale Mortenson, who helped marshal the bill (SB231) through the state Legislature which made the designation, also made comments, with both noting that it was a difficult achievement, but an honor to have been able to champion the senator who served them as friend and mentor