Harry Butler always displayed humility as a public servant
It was about 9:30 on Sunday night. We were sitting in the front room of the family place in Crested Butte when I heard Bonnie look up from a school district email and gasp.
“Oh no,” she said, “Harry Butler died.”
I was preparing a different sort of column for this week. Those plans immediately changed.
You’ve grown accustomed to my use of quotes to emphasize points I try to make in my writing. In this case, nothing but one from Harry’s favorite book would do, given his frequent scriptural references in public and private conversations.
This verse, from Philippians, seemed to fit.
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I’m not a biblical scholar, far from it. When looking for something from the Bible that would reflect Harry’s life, I’ll confess to having used Google, not memory. And that’s the verse I chose from among those presented when I asked for “scripture about servants.”
Others who served with Harry on the Grand Junction City Council or the District 51 Board of Education won’t question my use of the word “servant” in searching for that scriptural reference. They’ll know why I chose the word “humility” and the reference to looking out for the interests of others.
All that aptly describes the Harry Butler I met shortly after I arrived at Grand Junction High School as a sophomore back in 1961. Harry was a popular senior, a basketball player and manager of the Tigers’ football team.
But it was a different time back then, a different Grand Junction than the one that would later elect a black man to the City Council. In an interview with the late historian Kathy Jordan, Harry would recall his dismay at an “Aunt Jemima” depiction being part of the school’s Cotton Ball and being consigned to a basement room at a Colorado Springs hotel with another black football star, Vernon Dickey, while the rest of the team stayed upstairs.
None of that, however, could diminish Harry’s affection for his hometown or his pride in his family’s pioneer presence here.
Three of his great uncles came to Grand Junction in 1888, two of them purchasing property way out on Orchard Avenue three years later. In 1901, his great-grandfather Elijah Hines, a former slave, joined them.
The family attended Handy Chapel when it was built in 1892. Harry would later marry Danielle there and become a pastor, conducting services in the historic structure. He was living with his grandparents when he graduated from GJHS in 1962, shining shoes with his grandfather and helping his grandparents clean the offices at Home Loan and Investment Company.
Retiring after 29 years with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Harry was elected to the Grand Junction City Council, where we served together from 2001 to 2005. He would have finished two terms on the District 51 Board of Education later this year.
We last talked a few weeks ago at the appreciation party for departing City Council members. As the lone attendee from those newly elected to the council, he was excited to continue his public service in his hometown.
We’ll be poorer because of his absence. He would have been, I think, a moderating voice on a council obviously divided and sorely in need of a leavening influence. That’s the kind of public servant I always found Harry to be, whether or not we agreed on an issue. And the kind of person I knew him to be since we first walked the halls of GJHS together more than five decades ago.
There’s another scriptural reference I found in my search Sunday night that seems a fitting way to end this column, to commemorate the life of Harry Butler. It’s from Matthew 25:21.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”